Barcelona were unable to translate relentless possession into an end product as they prodded and probed with patient patterns but could not penetrate the superb discipline of Roberto Di Matteo's 4-5-1.
Like Getafe and Osasuna of La Liga, Barça's domestic league competition, Chelsea found a way to hold at bay and defeat the wonderfully technically gifted visiting side. Di Matteo planned a strategy that worked – compact, disciplined and compressing the defensive space, semi‑parking the bus in a fashion that was reminiscent of the Special One, the club's former manager.
Barcelona rarely overlapped in wide positions so that they could drag Chelsea defenders out from more central positions to make 2‑v‑1s. When Andrés Iniesta received possession in midfield (see diagram), he rolled the ball back or square inside to ever available colleagues who were intent on always resisting the high cross as they could not compete with the taller Chelsea defenders.
As expected Barcelona commanded the ball from the early stages and set the pattern with Chelsea determined not to press too soon and over-commit, leaving spaces between their lines. Barcelona had freedom of possession from the back where Carles Puyol, the captain, could comfortably conduct.
Contrastingly Barça hustled early and pressed quickly on to Chelsea defenders to hold sway. In rare attacking mode the home team played the longer, more penetrating pass towards Didier Drogba but generally the game was compressed into the Chelsea defensive territory where blue shirts were so narrow they were almost able to hold hands with each other, sitting solid as Barça weaved their patterns.
Whenever Lionel Messi drifted into midfield John Terry and Gary Cahill, the centre-backs, had no one to mark but they were aware of the forward movement in the first half of Alexis Sánchez and Cesc Fábregas. Slowly Dani Alves, the Barça right-back, stealthily made strides into advanced positions down his flank with the approach of the winger. On the only time that Chelsea's first‑half discipline failed and they were caught forward Messi invited Fábregas to score and Ashley Cole cleared off the line what one of nine goal attempts by the visitors during this period.
For Chelsea's goal Alves was upfield, Ramires collected from Frank Lampard and Drogba pushed in the Brazilian midfielder's cross. Chelsea, having survived some scares, defended with discipline, never chasing the ball or caught out of position, and ended the opening 45 minutes a precious goal in front.
If Di Matteo had imposed this discipline and planned to survive with a sprinkling of luck then his plan to the interval had shades of José Mourinho. In the second period Chelsea showed a shade more supported runs and counterattacks but again prevalent was how their narrow back four was protected by an equally narrow five‑man midfield. And with Barça refusing to cross high it did not matter that Chelsea's defenders were getting close to their goalkeeper, backing too deep towards Petr Cech.
Barça were always patient, always having a player available to receive square, short or backward of square. And with more zip in this second half than previously Messi began to race through the Chelsea lines, displaying his greatness, but the home side's numbers continually ambushed his final pass.
By the close of this opening leg, Drogba had begun and remained Chelsea's lone physical forward though he was also a theatrical presence. His side's solidarity through their narrow midfield and defence survived despite the chances for Barcelona.
Chelsea had their share of luck but, led by the centre‑backs, Terry and Cahill, and with Cech top-class behind them, they deserved their survival. Pep Guardiola's side waited and waited and waited but finally ran out of time.