The win owed much to the hosts’ dogged defensive display as Roberto di Matteo’s men frustrated a Barca side that predictably dominated possession, but Didier Drogba’s strike on the stroke of half-time proved the difference between the teams on the night.
However, the visitors were unlucky not to have taken the lead as early as the eighth minute when Alexis Sanchez saw his lobbed effort hit the bar after being played in by Andres Iniesta. A strangely subdued Lionel Messi then set Fabregas free but the former Arsenal man saw his shot cleared off the line by Ashley Cole after lifting the ball over Petr Cech.
It turned out to be a costly miss as Chelsea took the lead in first-half stoppage time, Messi caught in possession upfield and Brazilian midfielder Ramires eventually crossing for Drogba to turn the ball low past Victor Valdes.
Barca continued to control matters after the restart, with the home side prepared to bide their time and play on the counter-attack, and Cech had to be at his best to keep out Adriano’s shot before Sanchez wasted an opportunity by stabbing wide with the goal at his mercy. The Chelsea keeper produced another superb stop on 87 minutes to thwart Carles Puyol but Pep Guardiola’s team should have levelled things in stoppage time, substitute Pedro hitting the post and Sergio Busquets blazing the rebound over the bar.
Caretaker boss Di Matteo praised his side afterwards and was thankful of a clean sheet to take into next Tuesday’s return at the Camp Nou: he also thinks the tie is finely balanced.
“There is a lot of quality and experience in this team,” he told Sky Sports. “When you play against Barca you know you have to be organised. You know you have to be patient as well because they have a lot of the ball.
“It’s certainly good we didn’t concede a goal tonight and I think it is now 50/50 who goes through. We go into the second leg with a slight advantage and just have to be confident in our belief we can make it to the final.”
Pep Guardiola acknowledged Barca have a tough challenge ahead, believes Chelsea are now favourites and bemoaned the bad luck in front of goal that played a major part in the Catalans’ defeat.
“It was a good result for Chelsea and they are now favourites,” said the Barca boss “Our challenge now is to play the best possible 90 minutes at home and get through this tie.
“We knew this would be a difficult game but did not expect to create so many chances. But ultimately the hardest thing is to put the ball in the net and we must focus on doing that.
“Chelsea are physically stronger than us and I expect them to play the return leg with 10 men behind the ball and for them to run, run and run,” he added.