This is a weekly feature we are going to put out every Friday. We are going to look back at something big in sport a game, a series, a tournament, a moment something of importance. We will take you through the event, the history, why it was important and what happened next. As usual any questions, or anything you think we should take a step back in time for Comment, Tweet or Email us.
Date – 24th April 2012
Location – Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Allow me to set the scene for you. Over 90,00 people are crammed into the magnificent Camp Nou Stadium in Barcelona. The Catalan giants face Chelsea in the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea were 1-0 from the first leg. Barcelona is 2-1 up on the night which sends Chelsea through via away goals. Barca is throwing everything that Chelsea, Petr Cech definitely kept out a late header from the kitchen sink, the stats speak for themselves. The ball drops to Ashley Cole after a hashed Chelsea clearance and he pumps a long hopeful ball upfield to relieve the danger. The ball drops to Fernando Torres (More on him later) and Torres begins to stride up the field without a defender in sight, hurtling towards the Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes. As Valdes reaches him, Torres coolly takes a touch past his fellow Spaniard and slots the ball into the empty net. Putting Chelsea into the final of the Champions League. Why is this so relevant? Why did Gary Neville scream “Unbelievable?” As usual, we have to go back to go forward.
Firstly, let’s look at Chelsea the Russian Revolution was in full swing at this point. Mourinho has been and gone the first time bringing two Premier Leagues titles with him. Chelsea had been to finals before. Avram Grant, the former Director of Football, led them to a Moscow final where they were beaten on penalties by Manchester United just months after Jose had left. Chelsea had been to Semi-finals before. Claudio Ranieri narrowly lost out to Monaco in the first season with Roman’s money. Guus Hiddink had gotten them within seconds of another final the following year, only for Andreas Iniesta to score a screaming injury time volley (more on that later). But, the one thing that Abramovich really wanted was glory in the Champions League and was not ready for anymore near misses.
At the start of the 2011/12 season, Chelsea had turned to Andre Villas-Boas of FC Porto. He knew the club well after working there as a Scout under Jose Mourinho. He was young, he was ambitious and he bought with him a whole new way of doing things. The man he had replaced was Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian had been there for 2 seasons, bringing a double, but no trophy in his second season had seen him gone. AVB as he was known hardly set things alight at Chelsea, the club found themselves outside of the top 4 and trailing to Napoli in the first knockout round of the Champions League. AVB was gone and his assistant Roberto Di Matteo, already a Chelsea legend, was bought into steady the ship. First job? Beating Napoli and his Chelsea side just about did.
Any Champions League semi-final is big, but this one had a history. Chelsea and Barcelona at this point were familiar foes and seemingly played each other every season in Europe’s biggest competition. As we mentioned earlier, the last time they had men in a Semi-final it was decided on away goals by a last minute screamer from Andreas Iniesta. Really, that is only a small part of the story. See, Chelsea went ahead early through a Michael Essien goal, a goal itself that was of high quality, and the game was very even throughout. Things, however, got a little tetchy. Chelsea during the game believed they should have been given 4 penalties, two stand out Florent Malouda being bungled over in the box whilst through on goal and a goal-bound Michael Ballack shot hitting the arm of Gerard Pique. The images have been shown again and again of Ballack chasing the referee down the pitch screaming for a penalty. However, neither were given and Iniesta won the day. Didier Drogba was particularly vocal branding the result a disgrace and getting himself a ban from next season’s competition. Going into this tie Chelsea were ready to put right what they believe to be past wrongs.
But, what of Fernando Torres? Why his part in this so important? I am glad you asked. Fernando Torres before signing for Chelsea was a sensation. He burst onto the scene with boyhood club Athletico Madrid before joining Liverpool. Torres and Liverpool clicked he became the quickest ever player to bag 50 league goals as Rafa Benitez built his team around him. During the second half of his three and a half year spell at Anfield Torres struggled to replicate the fantastic start that he had made. Speculation was rife that he would be sold, in January or 2011 that came true. Carlo Ancelotti, remember him? Bought Torres to Chelsea for what was at the time a British Transfer record £50 Million. To say Torres struggled would be an understatement, it took him 903 minutes to score his first goal against West Ham and that would be his only goal for Chelsea in 18 matches. Whilst his first full season showed, a little more promise Torres went on a goal drought of 24! Games. Hardly prolific for £50 million. The fans had started to turn as had the pundits and Torres was facing criticism from all quarters. When he came on for Didier Drogba in the final minutes of the semi-final, his first touch was a botched clearance that gave the ball to Xavi, his next touch would be the start of the run that led to his goal.
Anyone that has seen a Maurizio Sarri Chelsea side, do not for a second think that Di Matteo’s Chelsea side played the same way. They were dogged and tough to break down, they played a lot of long balls, they were built around not conceding. This was never more evident than during this game, but things did not start well for Chelsea. Sergio Busquets scored early making the game level John Terry, Chelsea’s captain, was sent off soon after. Down to 10 men Chelsea was under the cosh things got worse as Andreas Iniesta popped up to make it 2-1 Barcelona and Chelsea were staring elimination in the face. Ramires, who was now filling in at right back, scored a delightful chip over Victor Valdes (forever immortalised by someone in the pub going Ramires is crap seconds before). Going into Half-time Chelsea were level, going through on away goal. The second half? Well, that was all Barcelona, constantly knocking on the door.
4 Minutes into the second half Leo Messi has a penalty, at this point he had never scored passed Chelsea. His penalty was missed which handed Chelsea a lifeline and they made sure not to let Barcelona get another clear chance. Barcelona totalled 22 shots on goal, compared to Chelsea’s 7. Barca also had 72% possession, which really shows how dominant they were in this face. As the Torres goal rolled in, the Camp Nou was stunned into silence. But what happened next?
Chelsea would go onto face Bayern Munich, in Munich in the Champions League final. John Terry, Ramires, Raul Meireles and most hilariously Branislav Ivanovic were suspended (Ivanovic found this out in the post-game interview. Look it up!). After another dogged defensive display, Chelsea won on penalties, aided by Arjen Robben missing an extra time penalty. Didier Drogba slotted away the winning spot-kick in what looked set to be his last game for the club. Di Matteo also won the FA Cup and was given the job full time for the following season. He was relieved of his duties and Rafa Benitez came in, bringing the Europa League ensuring Chelsea were the first team to even hold both at the same time. Winning the European Cup convinced Eden Hazard to join the club, at the time of writing he is still there and by a country mile their best player. This, in turn, bought the return of Mourinho, the Conte era and Sarri Ball. Whilst the Torres goal didn’t win the Champions League for Chelsea, it provided redemption for a man who was in desperate need for it. As well as one of the most iconic moments of footballing commentary of all time.
We hope you enjoyed this week Step Back in Time. We will be back next week with another. In the meantime, if you have any comments or have something you want us to step back to Comment, Email or Tweet us.