Beating Barcelona at the Nou Camp, with ten men, no centre backs and coming from two goals down? Chelsea's achievement surpasses Liverpool's any day of the week.
Ask any Liverpool fan the question and it will definitely be your answer. In fact, ask any football fan the question and they will most likely say the same. What is the greatest comeback in European football history? Well of course, it’s Liverpool’s famous victory in Istanbul. From what seemed certain annihilation, Liverpool pegged Milan back from three goals behind to win the game on penalties. The comeback of all comebacks. It was hard to picture such an achievement ever being matched. Last night in Barcelona, however, as Fernando Torres rounded Victor Valdes, Chelsea may have stolen Liverpool’s comeback crown.
In the context of the whole tie, Barcelona only led for three minutes. Yet, if we are to take the 90 minutes at the Nou Camp in isolation, Chelsea’s achieved a comeback that was arguably even more impressive than Liverpool’s. Chelsea were 2 – 0 down to Barcelona. At the Nou Camp. With ten men. This is the worst nightmare scenario for nearly every manager working in football today. With equal numbers, Barcelona can still cut apart most teams at will, teams have no option but to throw nearly everyone behind the ball. A man down however, there is no longer even the luxury for an outlet up front. It is a simple formation of 1 goalkeeper, 5 defenders, 4 defensive midfielders. On top of this, Chelsea had two right backs playing centre back (and one of them was Jose Bosingwa.) Only the brash, stupid, or most hardcore shed end season ticket holder could have seen a final score-line of 2-2 as Iniesta stroked home the second.
In the second half, Chelsea were the archetypal underdogs. Displaying a hard-working, team ethos not always seen this season, they dug in, packed the midfield and just about kept Barcelona out. Barcelona with Lionel Messi. Barcelona, reigning champions of Europe. The sheer unlikeliness of Chelsea’s achievement matches that of Liverpool’s. Chelsea’s triumph, however, is arguably more impressive.
A poor Barcelona side would not still achieve 73 % possession. This result was all down to Chelsea and the 10 men playing in that second half.
Milan’s first half performance in Istanbul lacked was sensational. Crespo’s second goal in particular, a dinked finish from Kaka’s stunning through ball, lingers in the memory. Liverpool were totally outclassed in that first half of football, they simply could not compete with Milan. In the second half, however, they remarkably reversed the deficit. The same players were on the field (Didi Hamman’s introduction did provide presence and possession in midfield) so while Liverpool’s game was certainly raised, Milan’s collapsed. Milan took their foot off the gas, ready to kick into cruise control. Once their lethargy had been realized, the Italian club began to dominate once again. Liverpool needed the same luck (Shevchenko missing a sitter) and resolve to win as Chelsea. Unlike Chelsea, however, Liverpool were playing at a neutral ground and with 11 men. They also had a captain fulfilling his duties, not kneeing people in the back.
Chelsea undoubtedly rode their luck in a similar way. How many times would Messi’s shots usually have crept in at Cech’s left had post, or just under the crossbar? Yet this was not a particularly off-colour Barcelona. Barcelona played the same game they always do. A poor Barcelona side would not still achieve 73 % possession. This result was all down to Chelsea and the 10 men playing in that second half. Their discipline, drive and togetherness brought them back into a game seemingly beyond any team. During his time at Liverpool, Fernando Torres must have always felt a tinge of regret he was not part of the greatest Champions League comeback in history. He doesn’t have to anymore.
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