Why You Shouldn't Write Off Chelsea's Chances against Barcelona

“They’re difficult to beat. I’m struggling to see how we’ll hurt them, create chances and score.” No, these are not the words of Roberto DiMatteo; they are Pep Guardiola’s. For […]

"He must have a foot like a traction engine!"

“They’re difficult to beat. I’m struggling to see how we’ll hurt them, create chances and score.” No, these are not the words of Roberto DiMatteo; they are Pep Guardiola’s. For the manager of what has been hailed by many to be the greatest club side ever witnessed, he doesn’t sound particularly confident of their chances. They are up against an aged Chelsea side in 6th place trailing the league leaders by 25 points and there are valid reasons for this train of thought.

That is because Guardiola understands that Chelsea are perhaps the one team Barcelona have struggled against the most in modern times. Since 2005, the teams have met eight times; four of these games have ended in draws, two in Chelsea victories and two in Barcelona victories. Of the most recent five matches, Barcelona have won zero. Chelsea are able to boast the impressive but creditless record of reaching six Champions League semi-finals in the past nine seasons. A feat unmatched by any other team. The core of each of these teams remains, they are experienced and certainly no pushovers.

The most recent meeting between the two teams was at the same stage of the competition in 2009. A contest about which Barcelona full back Dani Alves says, “There’s no doubt that was the hardest game we’ve played.” The game itself is unforgettable due mostly to some outrageous officiating decisions, the Norwegian part time referee displayed gross incompetence in denying four strong penalty appeals from Chelsea. Leading to Didier Drogba screaming down the lens of a TV camera “it’s a fucking disgrace!” It was. Barcelona had 71% of possession in that match yet only managed one shot on target for the whole match. Andres Iniesta scored a brilliant goal in injury time to tie the game 1-1 and take Barcelona through to the final on account of the away goals rule. Clearly Chelsea possess the ability to shut out Barcelona and defend efficiently even if they rarely have possession. Much like Jose Mourinho’s treble winning Inter Milan side did in the 2010 semi-final second leg, in which Inter only managed one (off target) shot for the whole match and had possession for an astounding 14% of the game. Of course for this tactic to be successful, Chelsea will need a lead to protect, a lead which would ideally need to be established at Stamford Bridge. It could happen, a bolt from the blue like that which Michael Essien produced in the 2009 tie or a set piece goal to sneak a lead followed by backs to the wall defending (and clinical counter attacking like that demonstrated against Spurs) for however long remains of the 180 minute tie.

Despite averaging near a goal a game throughout his career, Barcelona’s lethal weapon, Lionel Messi has failed to reproduce anything close to this form in any of his previous six games against Chelsea. However, Messi has noticeably improved since he last turned out against Chelsea and the Chelsea players have done the opposite.

DiMatteo faces an important decision on which striker to start. It looks likely that will turn towards Fernando Torres considering he was rested on Sunday. Part of his reasoning may be that Torres has scored seven goals in ten games against Barcelona, the most of any player in modern times. Unfortunately for Chelsea, the most recent of these was in 2005 when he was still an Atlético Madrid player.

Chelsea go into the tie following an uplifting 5-1 Wembley thrashing of rivals Spurs. Chelsea have not lost in their last seven matches, recording only one loss (away to Manchester City) under DiMatteo’s stewardship. They have recovered from their slump and hit form at the ideal time. It is an incredibly tall task and one which will require incredible levels of intense concentration but Barcelona will not be taking Chelsea for granted. Chelsea reaching the final is not out of the question and it would be naive to argue otherwise.