However fierce the game played out, there was absolutely no balance on the pitch, as Chelsea had only 25% possession and no shots on goal in the first 45 minutes.
That is, until Didier Drogba, on a beautiful assist from Ramires, slotted one home past goalkeeper Victor Valdes in the last few seconds of injury time in the first-half.
Now, visiting Barcelona had a 1-0 deficit hanging over their heads, seething with the frustration of missed opportunities. Chelsea was thanking their lucky stars that Petr Cech and the Blues' defenders (particularly Ashley Cole) came to play, and that Drogba was good enough to slip past Barca's defense.
Then, the second half played out, and despite a volley of shots from the Spaniards and only holding 20% of possession the whole match, Stamford Bridge was treated to their greatest gift since, well, Chelsea's last win in Champions League play against Napoli.
The scoreline says Chelsea squeaked out a close one, but was excellent overall. How did the individuals grade out? Check out my player ratings and let me know if you agree.
Petr Cech: 8.0
Cech was absolutely superb as he rose to the challenge of a potentially intimidating club in Barcelona. He sent the Spaniards back to La Liga frustrated (and Barca fans biting their nails that an El Clásico final may not happen). His play in extra time was nothing short of remarkable. Absolute class from the Czech international as he made stop after stop on Messi and Fabregas.
John Terry: 8.0
He showed superb play in the back line. How does a 31-year-old defender do what he did? There were countless interceptions from Barca's star forwards and balanced, disciplined play, with a sense that the veteran was in three places at once on the Blues' side of the field. An unforgettable performance.
Gary Cahill: 7.0
Cahill blocked Messi several times in the first half, a feat not easily accomplished in the football world. He helped Chelsea's back line to show themselves as a well-oiled machine.
Ashley Cole: 7.5
Cole started the match with incredible physicality, robbing Fabregas early on when the Barca man had several great opportunities. That was biggest reason—other than Cech—that Barcelona was blanked.
Branislav Ivanovic: 7.0
Ivanovic had some problems along the side of the pitch with Barca's wingers, but rounded out Chelsea's back line well. He supported the attack well (in the off times that the Blues strung something together).
John Obi Mikel: 7.0
He supported the defense well, most notably the block of Messi in 17th minute. He held the center of the midfield well, even if he was cheating on defense most of the match.
Frank Lampard: 6.5
After a sensational showing in FA Cup play against Tottenham, Lampard was nearly invisible. There was nothing good and nothing bad from the veteran midfielder. Chelsea could have used one of his trademark set pieces to get two goals ahead going into the second leg in Barcelona.
Raúl Meireles: 6.0
His was the only poor showing on Chelsea's side of the pitch, as he lost possession often and never put passes right on the money for teammates. What a shame.
Juan Mata: 7.0
This would have been looked at as a solid performance if not for everyone around him rising up to the challenge Barca presented.
He was always pressing the attack, and got caught offside several times because of it, but kept at it and was rewarded with a beautiful assist in the last seconds of the first half. It doesn't matter if you're caught offside nine times if the 10th one gets you through.
Didier Drogba: 8.5
Drogba was man of the match, no question. If you question me, you're sorely mistaken—or you're a Barca fan. What a goal in the waning minutes of the first half! He displayed great athleticism and worked tirelessly in the first half to get a chance at burying the ball in the back of the net. Drogba led the team with a performance that goes beyond mere words. This was one for the Champions League highlight reel.