The Blues defence held firm in the face of the Catalans’ majority of possession while the best chance of the night fell to Didier Drogba. With time ticking down in the first half, his shot was blocked by Victor Valdes; and the keeper got back up to knock away his chipped rebound.
Substitutes Bojan Krkic and Alexander Hleb moth missed chances in injury-time for Barcelona, who failed to score in a home match for the first time this season.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola had promised to seduce the world with his team’s brand of attacking football and they went at it immediately, Thierry Henry breaking down the left to earn a free-kick on the left side of the box.
Xavi whipped in a cross and Samuel Eto’o headed the ball back across goal where right-back Branislav Ivanovic missed it and Drogba turned his back; fortunately for Chelsea, Rafael Marquez could not steer it home at the far post.
All eyes were on the mercurial Lionel Messi but the spritely Argentine found his route to goal blocked time after time while Henry disappeared from the match for most of the rest of the half.
Andres Iniesta was all over the pitch for Barca as deep-lying trio Jon Obi Mikel, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien worked to deny him and his team-mates space. Jose Bosingwa, deputising on the left side of defence for the suspended Ashley Cole, did a good job on Messi, with Alex and John Terry throwing themselves into blocks around the area along with the visiting midfield men.
Alex and Ballack were shown yellow cards for bad tackles on Messi and Henry respectively while home midfield destroyer Yaya Toure was also cautioned for dissent. With Eto’o and Xavi shots from distance the closest Barca had come, Drogba found himself through on goal after Marquez messed up a backpass from the right.
Valdes, an excellent shot-stopper although suspect on crosses, stood tall to keep out the first effort while Drogba did not shoot properly with the second, allowing the keeper to dive out and reach up to tip the ball away.
Two minutes into the second half Florent Malouda, who along with Drogba conducted a running battle with flying Barcelona right-back Daniel Alves all evening, went down in a similar position to where Henry had been fouled early in the match.
Drogba bent a great cross into the danger area only for the unmarked Ballack to head wide.
Henry, Marquez and Alves were all hurt in the following minutes, although only the Mexican – who collapsed while on the ball – had to be replaced, club captain Carles Puyol stepping in at centre-half.
Marquez will miss the rest of the season after damaging the external meniscus in his left knee, while Puyol was later booked for a late tackle on Malouda and will limit Barca’s defensive options further for the second leg as he is now suspended.
On 62 minutes Alves found a rare strike on goal, surging down the right and smacking the ball towards the near post where Petr Cech was equal to it.
Eight minutes later Eto’o could have opened the scoring when he expertly turned away from Alex on halfway and nutmegged Terry before bearing down on goal; with Henry in the middle he cut back inside the retreating Alex and shot instead – Cech made the save low down.
Henry appealed for a penalty as he turned in the box when Bosingwa had hold of his shirt, but Wolfgang Stark ruled that it was a fair challenge; he was on his way down anyway, but there was definite contact.
Bojan and Hleb appeared for Eto’o and Henry while before that Barca’s 2006 Champions League-winning goalscorer Juliano Belletti came on for Frank Lampard to a rapturous reception from the home fans.
Iniesta was furious after Ballack held him back as he sought to burst into the box from the left, but there was no second yellow card for the German.
The kick was cleared as Guus Hiddink’s side held their positions once again, although they were almost undone in a flurry of late chances inside the allotted five minutes of time added on.
First Alves provided a perfect cross for Bojan to arrive and head over before Hleb was played onside by the injured Ballack – on his feet quickly again to cover – but could only fire at the feet of Cech from inside the penalty area on the left.
Alves then whipped in another with his left foot which just evaded Gerard Pique and Bojan – and that proved the final attack of the match.
The second leg will be held at Stamford Bridge next Wednesday.