A rematch of a spirited 2009 semi-final is set to take place at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea and Barcelona met 3 years ago and the tie was contentious to say the least. Barcelona advanced on away goals, scoring an injury time marker to advance to the final, which they eventually won. Chelsea were extremely bitter about the result, claiming the final whistle should have been blown a minute earlier. The West London side is set on revenge, but they will have to be flawless to satisfy their hunger.
The Blues have laboured domestically, but have performed much to a higher standard in Europe. However in order to vanquish mighty Barcelona, Chelsea will need something out of Fernando Torres. While Torres is showing better form recently, he still produces more agricultural finishes than someone of his caliber should be showing. If Torres can find the back of the net, he would take some of the pressure of Didier Drogba. The Ivory Coast International, leads the Blues with 4 goals in Europe, and is always dangerous around the net. Drogba’s fellow countryman Salomon Kalu may see time on the pitch as well. Kalu did find the back of the net in the quarterfinals against Benfica, and was very effective in creating space for Drogba. Juan Mata will push forward as well, and can be deployed as a striker. However I see him as a midfielder in these fixtures as Chelsea will have to defend a swarming Barcelona attack.
Joining Mata in the midfield will be Frank Lampard. The ageless Brit continues his talismanic role for the Blues, tallying 3 goals in this year’s competition. Brazilian Ramires, is an attacking yet inconsistent midfielder who needs to be in top form in the semi-final. Chelsea does have some decisions to make as Florent Malouda, John Obi Mikel, Raul Meireles and Daniel Sturridge are vying for time on the pitch. All these players have had moments of brilliance, but also have had moments of horror as well.
The back four suffered a devastating blow as David Luiz has been ruled out of both fixtures due to a hamstring knock. Luiz has been superb for Chelsea this season, and his absence will be felt. John Terry will be a go, but is playing with cracked ribs. Branislav Ivanovic has been a pleasant surprise for Chelsea and should be in the starting eleven. Ashley Cole must keep his cool, which is never a sure thing. Jose Boswinga should replace Luiz, but is a notch below on quality.
Petr Cech will have to find his 2005 form if the Blues want to see the final. Cech still has wonderful games, but age and injuries have slowed the keeper. Cech will be under intense pressure from the Barcelona attack, and one wonders if he can withstand the storm.
Where to start with the defending champions. Easy. Lionel Messi. Arguably the best player in the world, Messi leads the competition with an astounding 14 goals, many of them in jaw-dropping fashion. He put 5 in his account in the second leg against Bayer Leverkusen alone. When Messi is in top form, no one in the world can stop him. Joining Messi up front should be Pedro and Alexis Sanchez. Pedro is a gratifying component to the Barcelona attack, bringing speed and flair along the flank. Sanchez has upgraded his performances from the beginning of the season, earning more time on the pitch, since David Villa’s season ended due to a broken leg. Manager Pep Guardiola has utilized Cesc Fabregas up front as well, however he is more useful in the midfield.
Speaking of the midfield, it is to football what Dom Perignon is to champagne. Xavi and Andres Iniesta are simply exquisite in the middle of the pitch, and both could make an argument in the best player in the world debate. Providing sublime service to Messi and company, along with defending like bodyguards to the King of Spain, both players can simply do everything that is asked of them. Sergio Busquets is a stern holding midfielder who is a reliable tactician on the pitch.
The back four has battled erratic play at times, but is rounding into form at the right time. Guardiola has not decided on his starters as Seydou Keita will miss the first leg due to a thigh injury. Dani Alves is a sure thing, as he provides surging runs from the right back position. Gerard Pique has recovered from injury and is expected to start for Barcelona. Thiago Alcantara, Carlos Puyol, Eric Abidal, Javier Mascherano and Adriano could all see time either as defenders or holding midfielders.
Victor Valdes provides a solid last line of defence. Valdes has conceded only 3 goals in his last 7 matches. He doesn’t see many shots, but when called upon, Valdes will make the big save.
Both teams have busy schedules coming up. Chelsea are fighting for a top 4 finish in England, and advanced to the FA Cup final over the weekend. Barcelona have a titanic clash with bitter rivals Real Madrid on the weekend. It may come down to who is more focused. Saying that, Barcelona have more quality and the loss of Luiz will damage Chelsea. If Barcelona get a draw at Stamford Bridge, it will be good enough as they will win the second leg at Nou Camp. I see that happening. Expect Barcelona back in the Champions League Final, going for back to back European Cups.
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