Barcelona 'will have last word' in Nou Camp
Check, but not checkmate, was the verdict on Chelsea throwing a bucket of cold London rainwater on Barcelona's bonfire on Wednesday night.
There was begrudging praise for such a monumental defensive performance but still the belief that, as Diaro Sport put it, the "Nou Camp will have the last word".
To what extent Barcelona fans shared the optimism of the newspapers they were reading after their first defeat in 15 games was a different matter. In most post-match polls on which team now had the tougher task of turning round their first-leg defeat – Real Madrid (beaten 2-1 in Munich on Tuesday) or Barcelona – supporters leaned towards giving Jose Mourinho's side the best shot at a Champions League comeback.
Back in 2009, many supporters believed it was their destiny to lift the trophy, especially when Andres Iniesta scored in the last minute at Stamford Bridge to knock out Chelsea in the semi-final. Now those fans believe their team – having failed to score with 24 shots in 90 minutes – are destined to fail.
The Catalan sports press did its best to argue to the contrary, suggesting that Chelsea will not be able to hold out against Lionel Messi and company for 180 minutes. Especially with the second 90 minutes being at the Nou Camp – where the pitch is officially two metres wider and one metre longer, but always feels bigger to visiting sides who are dragged all over the place.
The post-match statistics were astonishing but just as Pep Guardiola had given them short shrift after the game, so they were overwhelmed by the images that dominated the inquest into Barcelona's defeat. One picture of Messi with the ball at his feet but with four Chelsea players for company appeared in almost every daily paper.
Another had him as the only Barça player in frame with eight blue shirts around him – it was Messi surrounded, alone and powerless to combat a defence that with Matrix-style agility had time and again flung itself into the path of Barcelona shots.
While picking through the bones of Barcelona's failure to score, there was plenty of credit for Chelsea's resilience, too. Didier Drogba might have appeared on the cartoon on the back page of Diario Sport knee-deep in four-leaf clover but there was an acceptance that there was nothing lucky about the performances of John Terry, Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole.
The England left-back "closed-down his wing", pointed out Marca, "Alexis, Alves, Pedro and Cuenca all tried and failed to get past him". Terry's performance was described as a "recital" in the Catalan daily La Vanguardia.
"Watching him play is like opening an encyclopedia on central defending. Just as Messi always runs forward," it said, "Terry always runs back believing that he will be able to intervene. And with Cahill alongside him, the finest moments of his partnership with Carvalho came to mind."
Most Catalan papers have never printed the words "Messi's mistake" before, but that phrase debuted in most match reports, as he took some of the blame for the defeat having been dispossessed by Frank Lampard in the centre-circle ahead of the Chelsea goal.
Cesc Fabregas and Guardiola were others who were questioned – the latter for his decision to leave Gerard Pique out and the former for prolonging a run of not scoring that now stretches back to almost two months. There was little mention of Fabregas's superb lofted pass that succeeded in putting Alexis through in the second half. What is suddenly being mentioned, however, is the €35m the club spent on him in the summer.
Pique played no part in the pre-match warm-up and never left the bench. There was no suggestion he would have done anything about the Drogba goal but perhaps Messi would not have had to come so deep in search of the ball had he been there to bring it out from the back.
Pique and Fabregas could even change places for the second leg although the minor matter of a league title-deciding Clasico comes before then and will have an influence on what team Guardiola picks for the return.
One man he might not be able to call on, however, is Alexis Sanchez. The Chilean was caught by Terry and is a major doubt for tomorrow's game.
'Football is against Barça': Spanish press reaction to Chelsea's first-leg victory
"Stamford Bridge is a place where Barça are very uncomfortable and Chelsea are a thoroughly unpleasant rival for Guardiola, forced to suffer the sentence of Sisyphus. He rolls a stone up the side of a mountain and every time he reaches the top, the rock falls down the slope and he must start again. When Barça go to Stamford Bridge their passes are headed away over and over again by a Blue Wall."
"Chelsea-Barça left behind curious situations. One was the grip on the hand John Terry gave Puyol. Barça's number five suffered an injury. The reaction of [Terry] was as unexpected as it was painful [for Puyol] – he demonstrated his limited idea of 'fair play', taking in jest the pain of a fellow player. Puyol, however, showed his good character and sportsmanship."
"The second game will be a huge night with the ground full to bursting. Fans will tirelessly support Barça and hope their team can show no one plays football like them. It has become clear the team misses a 'killer' in the area, a player capable of filling the void left by the injured David Villa. All of the passing football that generates scoring chances needs Messi to finish it off."
"Football is against Barça. In one of the high-lights of the season, football turned its back on a club it has treated so well. Guardiola's boys were faithful to their style but could not score. The result is a tragedy for the Catalans."
"Locked in their lair, like wounded animals, the men in blue repulsed all Barça's attacks."