So here we go again. In what is rapidly becoming a staple fixture in the Champions League calendar, it’s Chelsea vs Barcelona. The two sides go head to head in the semi-finals, with the first game being played at Stamford Bridge on Thursday and the return leg on the 24th at the Nou Camp.
This tie has quickly built up some history including a referee retiring amidst death threats, numerous penalty decisions not given to Chelsea in the ‘09 semi final which lead to Didier Drogba screaming “It’s a f*****g disgrace” on live TV. Add the odd sending off and spectacular goals and you have a tie that is hotly anticipated.
Going into the match, both sides find themselves in good form. Chelsea defeated Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final 5-1 and Barcelona overcame Levate 2-1 thanks to two goals from Messi. Chelsea have seen their form dramatically improve since Roberto Di Matteo replace Andre Villas-Boas. That is mostly due to the new defensive structure that Di Matteo has installed at Chelsea, something that will be put to the test against a Barcelona side that has scored 96 goals domestically, with Lionel Messi scoring 41 of those goals.
The Champions League has provided a welcome distraction for Chelsea as their league form remains inconsistent. Di Matteo is said to have studied hours of video footage of Barcelona’s play and says there is a weakness. One of the main issues for the Italian will be who to start with up front? Didier Drogba scored a sensational goal against Spurs and that is exactly the kind of goal that Chelsea will have to try and repeat against Barca. Barcelona are always going to win the possession battle so Chelsea may be reliant on a goal from a long ball from within their own half, which is exactly what Drogba did on Sunday. However Torres does have a good record against the Catalans, scoring seven goals in ten games against them while playing for Atletico Madrid.
For Barcelona, the formation coach Pep Guardiola goes for will be very important. Guardiola has been trying to implement a 3-4-3 system this season with varying degrees of success. However it could be argued it is because of this new system that Barca find themselves behind Real Madrid in La Liga. Messi remains the main man for Barcelona, his form this season has been unbelievable – scoring 63 goals in 52 appearances. There appears to be no major injury doubts for Barca with only Eric Abidal missing due to illness. Iniesta, Pique and Dani Alves were all rested on the weekend and should return against Chelsea. The only question is, who to drop out of Fabregas, Pedro, Mascherano, Thiago and Adriano? Quite a nice headache for Guardiola to have.
This is in stark contrast to Chelsea who played a strong first team against Spurs which resulted in an injury to David Luiz while John Terry continues to play with cracked ribs. Michele Essien did not feature in that game and should expect to start and will be expected to mark Messi just as he did so successfully in the match in ‘09. Will the lack of rest affect either side? Difficult to say. What we should expect is some sort of controversy and some fantastic football. You can be guaranteed of this if history is anything to by.