One year removed from their Champion League final defeat against Manchester United on penalties, the Blues were veering for a rematch against their domestic rivals but would suffer a calamitous exit in their semi-final second leg tie against the eventual champions Barcelona, mainly thanks to one of the most dubious refereeing performances of all time.
Chelsea entered the second leg in high spirits after an admirable away performance at the Camp Nou that saw the Blues hold the Catalan giants to a goalless draw despite Barca possessing a squad featuring a vast number of elite names and talent.
Heading back to Stamford Bridge for the second leg only a short while after, Chelsea remained up for the task and played a splendid performance against a Barca team that almost seemed intimidated by the rampant attacking prowess that the likes of Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, Nicholas Anelka and Frank Lampard all provided.
Needless to say, Chelsea were certainly up for the task!
Well for a short while anyway.
With just shy of ten minutes played, Guus Hiddink’s side found themselves in front when Michael Essien struck home one of his many patterned strikes from the edge of the box. Hitting the cross bar and bouncing down past Victor Valdes’ goal-line, Essien steered Chelsea to a 1-0 lead in spectacular fashion.
Chelsea kept piling the pressure on Pep Guardiola’s side as Drogba saw his free kick parried away by Valdes with skipper John Terry just slicing his header past the post from the resulting corner.
Minutes later, Drogba was played in behind the Barca backline and looked set to put the Blues up 2-0 before Eric Abidal looked to pull Drogba down in the box, and seemed to be pulling on his shirt, yet referee Tom Henning Øvrebø waved play on despite what seemed like a clear foul from Abidal.
Chelsea stood firm for the remainder of the first half and started off the second half brightly with Valdes once again being called into action to deny Drogba before Abidal was eventually shown a red card after fouling Anelka on the edge of the box, with the French striker now playing in fine form at the Bridge after a questionable transfer dilemma with Liverpool in 2002.
With only ten minutes to play, Anelka looked to flick the ball over Gerard Pique which he clearly deflected with his arm while stood in the penalty area, with Øvrebø once again denying Chelsea another clear-cut penalty.
In spite of all the controversies surrounding Øvrebø’s refereeing performance, Chelsea look to stand firm and seemed to be heading to a Champions League final rematch against Manchester United.
But with only seconds left it was time for Andres Iniesta to deliver a thunderbolt into the top corner.
Iniesta struck a tremendous effort past a diving Petr Cech, who was left with absolutely no chance of keeping this one out, which would ensure that Barca would advance to the final with a win on away goals if they could keep the score at 1-1. And as if things couldn’t get any worse for the London club …
With one last throw at the dice, Lampard delivered an out-swinging corner that was cleared out to a pouncing Michael Ballack who latched onto the ball that was clearly blocked by the arm of Samuel Eto’o in the penalty area.
Once again, Øvrebø waved off the decision which saw Ballack chase down the Norwegian referee, visibly shouting and yelling at Øvrebø who simply ignored every obvious penalty decision throughout the game as the entire Chelsea team and coaching staff rallied around the referee as the full-time whistle inevitably sounded to ensure Barca would progress back to the final.
As the Barca players continued to celebrate, a clearly irate Dider Drogba could be seen yelling explicitly into a television camera with a now iconic quote:
“IT’S A DISGRACE!! IT’S A ******* DISGRACE!!!”
Barca would go onto to beat Untied in the final by 2-0 thanks to goals from Messi and Eto’o, which would even prove to be Cristiano Ronaldo’s final game for United before his shocking return earlier this year.
Chelsea and Barca would once again play host to another Champions League semi-final only three years later, with the Blues avenging their controversial prior exit against the Catalans with Fernando Torres’ climactic brace that sent both the Chelsea fanbase and Gary Neville up on the gantry into sheer ecstasy.
In the final, Chelsea would defeat Bayern Munich on penalties with the aforenoted Dider Drogba marking himself back in the headlines as one of the best ‘big-game’ strikers that the footballing world had ever seen.
While Chelsea would eventually gain revenge over Barcelona only a few years later, it cannot be understated how much of a stain this match left on the beautiful game after claims of ‘match-fixing’ in Barcelona’s favour.
Øvrebø himself regrets some of the decisions he made that day and soon retired from refereeing in 2013 after taking charge of games in the Norwegian Premier League despite briefly refereeing of a small number of group stage games in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup.
A game that lives long in the memory of all football fans, for better or for worse, as Chelsea were clearly robbed of an opportunity to square off against Manchester Untied thanks to what can be described as arguably the worst refereeing display by any licensed official at the top level of domestic football.