One of the most intriguing modern rivalries of European football will be rekindled this week as Barcelona and Chelsea come to loggerheads in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
The 1st leg of the last four tie takes place at Stamford Bridge as the teams meet for an incredible 9th time in the competition in the last six years. Barcelona controversially overcame the Blues at this very stage in 2009 when Andres Iniesta’s injury-time goal sent Barca through to the finals on away goals. Barcelona are in a record 5th straight semi-final while Chelsea are in their 6th semi-final in 9 years. The Blues have a 100% home record in Europe this season and coincidentally the last Spanish outfit to beat them in the competition were a certain Barcelona back in 2006. Chelsea havent won any of their last three semi-final meetings against Spanish opponents while Barca themselves have won only two of their six last-four meetings against English opposition. Both sides tasted victory in their games over the weekend, with Barcelona beating Levante 2-1 while Chelsea thrashed Tottenham Hotspur 5-1 in the FA Cup semi-finals.
The Italian has made a huge impression with the turnaround he has masterminded since taking over from Andre Villas-Boas, having secured nine wins in his 12 matches at the helm. As well as moving back into contention for a top-four finish in the Premier League, the Blues on Sunday booked their place in the final of the FA Cup by thrashing London rivals Tottenham 5-1. While the Wembley triumph provides an ideal lift ahead of another massive clash, the midweek meeting with Barca is undoubtedly the sternest test to date of Di Matteo’s credentials as speculation continues over whether he could be offered the permanent position.
Di Matteo has demanded two ‘perfect’ games from his players against Barcelona and Frank Lampard insists Chelsea are not scared of the reigning European champions as they relish the tag of underdogs. Lampard is one of the senior men to have been given a fresh lease of life by Di Matteo’s arrival and is expected to line up in midfield alongside John Obi Mikel and Ramires. David Luiz will miss both legs of the tie after failing to recover as quickly as Chelsea had hoped from a hamstring problem, but Branislav Ivanovic is available during his domestic three-match suspension. At the other end of the pitch, Drogba will be hoping to start after his fine performance against Tottenham.
Barcelona will feel they are a better side now than the last time they faced the Blues, with Lionel Messi going from strength to strength and enhancing his reputation as one of the greatest players in history. The Argentine superstar has been in irresistible form all season and has netted a remarkable 14 goals in the Champions League this term, but in six previous games against Chelsea he has never scored. Even if that record is extended to a seventh game at Stamford Bridge, Barca still possess a frightening attacking arsenal and will be confident that someone can grab an away goal to take back to Camp Nou for next Tuesday’s second leg.
Barca have not had to rely on their home form to reach the semi-finals, though, having cruised through the group stage and then blown away Bayer Leverkusen before battling past AC Milan in the last eight. Pep Guardiola, who has dismissed reports linking him with the Chelsea manager’s job as ‘fantasy’, is now within sight of leading Barcelona to become the first club to defend the Champions League trophy. Guardiola says he is aware of the threat Chelsea will pose and will be without a couple of key players as Seydou Keita (thigh) has not travelled and David Villa (broken leg) is still sidelined. Andreu Fontas is also out for the season with a knee injury but Ibrahim Afellay has recovered from knee ligament damage and Dani Alves is back from a thigh problem. Gerard Pique has also overcome a thigh injury and is set to take up his place in defence alongside Carles Puyol and the versatile Javier Mascherano.
Head to Head
06 May 2009 – Champions League Semi Final, 2nd Leg – Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona
28 Apr 2009 – Champions League Semi Final, 1st Leg – Barcelona 0-0 Chelsea
31 Oct 2006 – Champions League Group A – Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea
Chelsea – WDWWW
Barcelona – WWWWW
Probable Starting XI
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Essien, Mikel; Ramires, Lampard, Mata; Torres.
Barcelona (4-3-3); Valdes; Dani Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Puyol; Xavi, Busquets, Fabregas; Sanchez, Messi, Iniesta.
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona