It is 20 years since one of the greatest nights in Chelsea history, the dismantling of Barcelona in our first-ever knockout Champions League game. You can watch it back on the app from 3pm today (Sunday), and to whet the appetite we revisit a momentous occasion with fresh words from Jody Morris and two-goal Tore Andre Flo…
Chelsea v Barcelona, Champions League quarter-final first leg, Wednesday 5 April 2000
The Guardian described it as ‘the most important fixture ever staged at Stamford Bridge’. Chelsea supporters of all ages could find little reason to dispute that statement. In 95 years of games at our home ground, none had carried quite such a sense of occasion as Barcelona’s visit in the spring of 2000. What followed during 90 exhilarating minutes only intensified that feeling.
By the quarter-final stage, Barcelona were the favourites for the Champions League. They were La Liga champions. In Rivaldo, they had the current holder of the Ballon d’Or. In Luis Figo, they had his successor.
Gianluca Vialli devised a plan. If you could stop Pep Guardiola, the team’s deep-lying playmaker, you would go a long way to stopping Barcelona. Two days before the game he worked on a new 4-3-1-2 shape, with Jody Morris the man tasked with sticking to Guardiola. It was unfamiliar territory for our current assistant manager, who was known as a creative, constructive player.
‘Guardiola was the one who got them ticking,’ remembered Morris this week.
‘Luca felt that when we were in possession of the ball, I’d be able to run off him a little bit even though that wasn’t my position further up the pitch. We felt we could stop them playing.
‘I didn’t focus on the fact it was something I had never done before. I didn’t mind that side of the game. A lot of work for the team was off the ball.
‘I was just so pleased I was going to be playing in such a massive game. I didn’t think about the role that much, obviously I was focused on it, but I realised I didn’t want to let anyone down. For Luca to put his faith in me to play, I was buzzing with that side of it, rather than worrying about having never done it before.’
As it turned out, Guardiola would miss the game through injury. A 20-year-old by the name of Xavi took his place, but Morris recalls the game-plan remaining the same.
‘I didn’t know anything about Xavi and I remember Luca coming to me saying "you’re still going to play even though Guardiola isn’t."
‘Albert Ferrer came to me and said "look, there’s this young player called Xavi, don’t underestimate him, he’s going to be the one taking over from Guardiola. He’s a top, top player."
Ferrer wasn’t wrong. But the tactic worked. Morris and the three midfielders behind him, Dennis Wise, Dan Petrescu and Didier Deschamps, harried and hassled Barcelona into mistakes, cutting off the supply line to Rivaldo, Figo and co.
The opening goal in huge games such as this one can prove decisive, and who knows how things would have turned out if Ed de Goey had not saved superbly from Gabri at 0-0.
Our authority and attacking intent grew, and just before the half-hour we took the lead in familiar fashion. Figo needlessly handballed outside the box. Gianfranco Zola took a deep breath, set himself, and curled a free-kick from three yards outside the penalty area, to the left of the D, which dipped over the wall and just inside the near post. The Bridge erupted; little did the fans know the eight minutes that followed would be some of the most dramatic in our history.
First, Ferrer released Zola down the inside-right channel, exploiting gaps in the Barca defence. The low centre that followed was cutely touched across goal by Tore Andre Flo into the bottom left-hand corner. ‘At the Shed End they are dreaming!’ roared Peter Drury commentating on ITV. ‘You have to ask yourself, is this really happening?’
Then, four minutes later, a hooked Deschamps volley on halfway set Flo free. With Barcelona keeper Ruud Hesp advancing, the Norwegian lobbed the keeper from just outside the box, the ball bouncing once before nestling in the net. There was disbelief: on the pitch, in the stands, throughout the football world watching on.
‘We were 3-0 up at half-time and what a great feeling that was,’ says Flo.
‘We were walking into the dressing room with the whole stadium applauding us, the atmosphere was quite electric.’
Barcelona came out fighting after the break and our defence was breached once, Figo touching in Rivaldo’s cross in the 63rd minute at the climax of a whirlwind move. The Blues dug in, and might have even extended our lead before the final whistle when Hesp saved from sub Roberto Di Matteo late on.
‘We had our plans and they worked, especially in the first half,’ Vialli said afterwards.
‘Everyone was spot on. In the second half we got tired, because the way we played was more demanding and they had to take risks.’
Morris’s evening had gone well on a personal level, too, with Xavi later naming him as one of his toughest opponents.
‘It was an enjoyable game in terms of the result, but it’s not one of my most enjoyable games in terms of taking part in from a technical point of view.
‘I was a little bit bored, I didn’t really do much on the ball, but when you get such a good win everyone was on such a massive high. To be lining up against some of the world’s best players, Rivaldo, Figo, people like that, it was amazing to be involved.
‘We played well and took our chances, but they were still top. We had a lot of work to do off the ball. It wasn’t a 3-1 game.
‘I don’t think anyone in the ground or in Europe could believe it at the time,’ adds Morris. ‘The atmosphere was amazing. The West Stand wasn’t finished, I always remember that, it was a nice evening and you could see the sky.
‘Being our first season in the Champions League we weren’t used to that type of game, performing well against that level of opponent. It was amazing to be involved in, and the reaction to it up and down the country made it such a massive result for us.’
Van Gaal lamented his team’s lack of calm but knew Figo’s away goal could prove priceless a fortnight later when the teams reconvened in Camp Nou. Twenty years on, however, Flo’s feelings about another triumphant match for him in the Champions League perhaps best sum up a night unlike any other in our history up to that point.
‘I will never forget the atmosphere, and how happy everyone was in the stadium.
‘Finally Chelsea could play and beat the better teams in Europe.’
Chelsea: De Goey; Ferrer, Thome, Desailly, Babayaro; Petrescu (Di Matteo 71), Deschamps, Wise (c); Morris; Flo (Sutton 88), Zola.Unused subs Cudicini, Hogh, Lambourde, Harley, Poyet.Scorers Zola 30, Flo 34, 38