Ok, it’s the biggie against Barcelona tomorrow night and there seem to be plenty of opinions out there on how it’ll go. So, when Guillem Balague.com invited TheChelseaBlog to chew the fat with the opposition (FCB News), it was an invitation not to be turned down. FCB News is an English language Barcelona blog run by Nic Aldam, a Blaugrana obsessed Englishman who lives in Barcelona. So, seeing as I’m a little obsessive myself when it comes to The Blues, I had as much to say as ever.
In the first bit of the two part feature we have a bit of a chat about strengths, weaknesses and give our opinions on who we see as key players, and all that without a single punch being thrown.
Have a read:
Guillem Balague: The majority of my colleagues in the media are hyping Barcelona up as favourites: with Chelsea as the underdogs. But in the past, that is a role the Premiership club have often seemed comfortable to adopt. Does The Chelsea Blog agree, or are the European press underestimating your boys?
The Chelsea Blog: As much as I’d love to say Chelsea are being totally underestimated, hand on heart, I can’t really. Everyone knows what a massive task we face. Barça just can’t stop scoring and despite having the tightest defence in the Premier League, we’ve been leaking more goals than usual lately. I believe Messi is going to be the key player for Barcelona – I know that’s an obvious choice, but since Ronaldinho’s departure, little Argentinean has really come into his own this season and he’s just scarily good. Taking in to account that Chelsea will be without a recognised left-back to pit against Messi and, short of bricking up Petr Cech’s goal, I’m not sure how we’ll keep them out. Having said that, we’ve already played a couple of our toughest games in this competition against Liverpool and shown we’re not shy when it comes to attacking either, so maybe I’m not giving us enough credit. Or does FCB News think it’ll be pretty easy for them?
FCB News: I think it would be foolish to think it will be easy: Chelsea have some cracking players and plenty of experience at this level. However, Barça have to be favourites to get through. Pep Guardiola has done an extraordinary job this season to restore order, discipline and belief at the club – and the response from the players has been excellent. We have so many players performing at a great level that it gives us plenty of options, it’s not just about Messi who just gets better and better; but Iniesta, Xavi, Eto’o and Henry are all playing extremely well too. We are not perfect however, and in the 2-2 draw at Valencia at the weekend some of our weaknesses were exposed.
The Chelsea Blog: I guess our weakness has to be defensively. Petr Cech has looked far too suspect lately and although he’s managed two clean sheets as well as saving a penalty in the run up to the Barça game, he still looks fragile under pressure particularly from high balls. As for our other concern in defence – Ashley Cole’s suspension – from the weekend’s practice run, it looks as if Jose Bosingwa gets to switch sides for this game so it’s not a case of ‘overcoming’ our weaknesses but more patching them up. We still have our strengths as well though and we’ll be expecting players like John Terry to show his in defence, whilst players like Essien, Drogba and Frank Lampard were made for these sort of games. Michael Essien in particular just loves these big European nights and his presence in midfield is going to be the key for Chelsea: after a lengthy spell out, he came storming back for us showing everyone what we’d been missing.
So, in terms of actually beating Barcelona, I don’t think we’ll be looking for set pieces or home advantage in the second leg to decide it for us; we’ll just need to show we want it more than they do…
Guillem: Hiddink has certainly restored some of that hunger and self belief hasn’t he. But, I’m glad you mentioned both Drogba and Essien because many observers seem to believe Chelsea may be able to impose themselves on Barca with their more superior physical presence – and as TheChelseaBlog says, ‘by wanting it more’…..
FCB NEWS: Drogba and especially Essien are two players I rate very highly. Drogba is certainly capable of causing our defence some headaches, so the key for us is to try to make sure he sees very little of the ball. This is basic Cruyff philosophy: if the opposition don’t have the ball they can’t hurt you. Barça’s game is all about possession, if we lose possession too often in midfield then we will have problems. The same thing applies to for our supposed weakness at defending set pieces; we are only likely to concede free kicks or corners if Chelsea have the ball. Fortunately we are very skilled at keeping the ball, and at winning it back in the opposition’s half when we lose it. This has very little to do with physique, it is all about positioning and teamwork.
However, Chelsea are one of the best teams in Europe so we will have to be on top of our game to win. I believe that Michael Essien will also be the key player for Chelsea and I am very interested to see if he will mark Xavi, as it will be a fascinating battle; Xavi had a surprisingly poor game at Valencia but at least that means he shouldn’t be due another bad day for a couple of years now.
As for ‘wanting it more’, I don’t really think there will be much difference between the sides. This is the Champions League and all the players will be giving 100%: Barça haven’t won anything since 2006, so the hunger is definitely there.
I’ll put the second part up tomorrow, so have a look and you can see our final thoughts and predictions before Guillem gives his verdict.