After a hard earned 1-0 victory against defending champions Barcelona last Tuesday, Chelsea travel to Spain to take on the Catalans at the Camp Nou, in one of the most highly anticipated matches of the season. Chelsea will be looking to repeat a fine defensive display at home, in which they managed to suffocate the Barcelona forwards and cut off supply to Lionel Messi for large parts of the game.
Barcelona typically dominated position and created a barrage of chances, but the inspired Londoners absorbed the pressure and made their chances count, breaking fluently on the counter attack. Even though Barcelona came agonizingly close to scoring a few times and also hit the framework twice, nothing much can be taken away from a resolute performance by Chelsea.
Di Matteo has revived a potentially dreadful season for the blues and revitalized the squad. His 4-2-3-1 strategy, with Lampard and Meireles as holding midfielders and Drogba or Torres as target men up front has worked very well for them in the recent past.
Barcelona on the contrary, have had a dip in form of late, with a 1-0 loss away to Chelsea and more recently, a humiliating 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid at home, where they were clearly outplayed by Ronaldo & co. Even so, due to the sheer talent and ingenuity of players like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, Barca are still favorites to progress to the finals of the Champions League.
For Chelsea, full-back David Luiz will be replaced by Gary Cahill due to a hamstring injury sustained on Sunday. Meanwhile, Drogba is likely to start ahead of Torres after his impressive display in the first leg and his ability to disrupt the Barcelona defense by occupying two defenders at a time.
Barcelona are expected to start in their usual 4-3-3 attacking formation as Gerrard Pique is expected to return from injury. Messi is expected to start in the role of centre forward instead of playing wide like last time, where he can create havoc by interchanging with both Fabregas and Sanchez.
Chelsea have definitely been among Barca’s least favorite opponents, having failed to beat them in the last five matches at Camp Nou since the 2005-06 season. Moreover Chelsea is one of the only eight teams out of sixty opponents that Messi has failed to score against and the only ones who have managed to keep him quiet six times in a row.
Lionel Messi’s importance in the Barcelona squad cannot be undermined, with 63 goals, he has single handedly contributed 40 percent of the clubs 167 goals this season (four times that of second placed Fabregas), and more than a quarter of the assists. He is also top scorer in the Champions League with 14 goals so far. This over dependence on Messi can be a weakness for Barcelona.
Chelsea’s tactic will be to keep a tight line of defense, cut off supply to Messi and break on the counter attack; when Barca have looked most vulnerable. Chelsea will be looking to score that crucial away goal early on in the match, and hold their nerves as Barcelona have a habit of creating a plethora of chances.
Petr Cech, who put on a fantastic performance in the first leg is expected to be kept busy again. Chelsea should guard against complaisance, especially in the last quarter of the game as they have suffered dearly in the past for letting in late goals.
Chelsea are high on confidence as they travel with a slight one-goal advantage and Di Matteo reckons his teams chances of progressing to the finals are 50-50, but he will be weary of the Catalans who have proven time and again why they are reckoned as the best team in history.