Venue: Stamford Bridge
Date: Wednesday, 18 April
Kick-off: 1945 BST
Excited or dreading it, there’s no avoiding it. It’s the Champions League semi-final and yet again we’ve found ourselves up against Barcelona.
Barca might not have Tom Henning Overbo but they have got Lionel Messi so it’s a tough call which one would be preferable anyway. The Barcelona striker is in frightening form this season and looking at the Champions League alone, he’s bagged 14 in 9 games, with 4 assists. Worth remembering though, is that he’s yet to score against us (but I’d put money on me regretting saying that later).
Chelsea meanwhile, haven’t pushed anyone particularly close in the Premier League this season although the experience of Lampard, Drogba and John Terry has undoubtedly seen us through to the FA Cup semi-final this week ahead of tonight’s game as the remaining English side in the competition.
On the plus side, in the Champions League we’ve won five from five at home so far, scoring 16 and conceding just twice. We’re also no strangers to the Champions League semi-finals, reaching this stage on six occasions in the past nine years. Mind you, we’ve only had one win from all of those – against Liverpool in 2008.
For Barcelona, on the other hand, it’s their fifth consecutive Champions League semi and they’ve lifted the trophy on 3 occasions.
Chelsea manager, Roberto Di Matteo is under no illusions ahead of tonight’s game says “It’s fair to say we need two perfect games. But I think, also, that the fact we’ve been performing very well in the last six weeks gives us the belief we can produce two perfect games in this match. It’s the biggest challenge for any manager to play against the best team in the world, but for every player as well, to be able to compare themselves against one of the top teams in the world.”
But with 2009 clearly still in his mind, RDM also warns “Discipline is a huge fact at this level. To play a man down against Barcelona is very tough. We have to tackle and close space, but we’ve got a good discipline in our team. Keeping 11 on the pitch is crucial.”
Barca manager Pep Guardiola meanwhile, doesn’t seem to be able to make his mind up whether to flatter or patronise us, saying “I do not think Chelsea are playing for revenge, but to be in the final. What you have lost in football is lost. Chelsea have spirit and the same core team from 2009 and this generation of footballers (that they have) is unique. It’s admirable. And it will be more complicated this time around. We’re the reigning champions now and a good team want to beat us. In addition, few teams can execute counterattacks (like Chelsea). We’re playing against one of the best teams in Europe (in Chelsea) and we have to focus on this match.”
For Chelsea, David Luiz (hamstring) misses out although Branislav Ivanovic is available for this one and Cahill (foot) is expected to be passed fit.
For Barcelona David Villa and Eric Abidal remain out, whilst Gerard Pique (thigh) is back in contention. Dani Alves, Seydou Keita and Ibrahim Afellay are all back in the squad.
CHELSEA (from): Cech, Ivanovic, Bosingwa, Terry, Cahill, Cole, Mikel, Meireles, Lampard, Ramires, Mata, Malouda, Drogba, Torres, Sturridge, Kalou, Turnbull.
The regular readers on here will know by now I wouldn’t touch the score when it comes to guessing the outcome, although I think it’s a fair prediction this will be a game of clichés. It’s the ‘business end of the season’ after all and there’s ‘no easy games at this level’, so if we want it to be a ‘great advert for the game’ we’ll have to get at them ‘early doors’ and our players will undoubtedly have to ‘work their socks off’. Hopefully any ‘handbags’ will be ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’, although since it’s ‘a game of two halves’ and this is the first-leg, it’s worth remembering both Mascherano and Puyol are one yellow card away from a suspension. So if we can wind them up enough, it could turn out to be ‘a funny old game’.