Tonight see the first of the two Champions League semi finals and feature Chelsea against the one non English team remaining in the competition – Barcelona. The first leg is in the Camp Nou and Chelsea will be looking to do something only five teams have managed this year in league and Europe – prevent Barcelona from winning. Barcelona have been knocked out by English sides for the past two years losing to Man Utd last year and Liverpool in 2006/07. They did beat Arsenal in the final in 2005/06. There’s plenty of history against Chelsea too.
Yep, Barca have been nearly unstoppable at home, losing just twice against Espanyol and Shakhtar (with a reserve side) while drawing three. They’ve scored a ridiculous 73 goals in 22 games, that’s 3.3 goals a match. Their away form isn’t exactly bad either but they will look to establish a lead to take to Stamford Bridge. There are loads of stats that show just how amazing their attack is.
They have something like 136 goals in all competitions. They probably won’t all fit on one dvd.
The front three of Eto’o, Messi and Henry have scored 66 in the league and 90 in total. That’s as many as every Chelsea combined in league, FA cup and Europe.
They’ve scored six goals four times, five goals five times (including thrice in Europe) and four goals six times.
Can Chelsea’s defence stop them? They have some injury worries. Terry and Alex will play but a half fit Bosingwa will be playing out of position at left back to try and mark Messi while Ivanovic will probably get the nod at right back. It’s a bit makeshift and will no doubt need help from Essien and a deep lying Ballack.
Ever since Guus Hiddink came in on his temporary contract, Chelsea have markedly improved. Performance is up, and the players look like they’re playing for the manager (unlike with Big Phil). Tactically Hiddink is a master, as shown by his dismantling of Rafa’s plans in the quarter finals. You also don’t have as much international success as he has had (with poor teams like South Korea and Australia) if you’re a mug. Didier the Drogba has decided that he still wants to play for Chelsea and has reinstalled himself as first choice striker. He is in great form at the moment (see his performance in the FA Cup semi) and the Blues will need a big performance from him if they are to get anything from this game. It will be interesting to see who plays in the wide positions alongside him. Malouda has been playing well recently on the left so should start while Kalou will probably get the nod out right for his workrate. I certainly don’t see Malouda getting too much change out of right back Dani Alves which means Kalou becomes all the more important on the right wing. Abidal is a vastly overrated left back and that could potentially be a weakness. Drogba will try and be as physical as possible with the centre back pairing of Pique and Puyol and could get some joy.
I have special powers. Like making this border wider than it should be.
Though we’ve talked a lot about the attacking options for both sides, this game will be won and lost in midfield. Critically, Chelsea need to stop Barcelona getting their fluent passing game going. It’s vital Lampard, Essien and Mikel/Ballack harry and harass the Barca midfield trio. Messi may pull the strings further forward but the Spanish combo of Iniesta and Xavi set the tempo. They are usually paired with Toure, who will relish going head to head with Essien. Ballack especially has to put a high level of effort in. He should get the nod based on his experience but he’ll need produce a vintage performance to ensure he’s not chasing shadows all evening.
We mentioned earlier how these two clubs have met plenty of times in recent history. Most recently and most tetchily was the the group stages in 2006/07 but the sides also met in the first knockout round in 2005/06 and 2004/05. They shared a win each, with the latter being memorable for Mourinho accusing Rijkaard of influencing Anders Frisk. This incident eventually led to Frisk retiring such was the abuse he got from Chelsea fans. Those three consecutive years of meeting had a lot of hype (thanks to Jose) but the most memorable battle came before Mourinho’s time in the 1999/00 quarter finals. Chelsea took a 3-1 lead to the Nou Camp but couldn’t hold against Rivaldo et al and were beaten 5-1 after extra time. If this year’s tie is half as exciting I’ll be a happy man.
Messi & the hatchetman
Yes Henry and Eto’o have scored a silly number of goals but one made dominates Barca’s attacking play – Lionel Messi. 34 goals in all comps means just one thing – just how will hatchet man John Terry stop him? Normally I’d suggest Carvalho would be the one to do the job but in a game of such importance I think brave captain JT will take on the responsibility. Which method will he choose?
1. Shoulder charge:
Effective but Messi may be too short.
2. Reverse headbutt:
Ultimate courage - hurt yourself by breaking Messi's foot.
3. Close combat stealth hug:
Stealth - pretend to hug then choose close combat technique.
4. Lean on me:
Pretty standard - use all game like a jab.
5. Captain’s influence:
Influence the ref - get Messi booked
6. Self tug:
Pretend your shirt is being pulled. Get Messi booked.
7. Filthy tackle:
Filthy tackle - take him out.
Wildcard: flood the pitch with your tears - Messi can't play pretty football.
I fancy a bit of 7 and 5 with a sprinkling of 3. It won’t be enough though as Barca take a lead into the second leg.