Uefa Champions League, Semi-final first leg
Venue: Camp Nou
Date: Tuesday, 28 April
Kick-off: 1945 BST
Here we go again then, it’s Barcelona at the Nou Camp, but whilst they’re another one of them clubs we seem to keep bumping into in the Champions League and you’d think it would be a bit deja vu, this one’s likely to be a little different from all those that have gone before. And for me the difference will be in personnel because this will be the best Barca side we’ve ever had to face and unfortunately for us, it won’t be the strongest ever side we’re putting up against them tonight.
I suppose if we want to take comfort from something, there’s the fact that in 3 of the last 4 Champions League seasons Barcelona have been knocked out by us (2004-05), Liverpool (2006-07) and Manchester United (2007-08). That record is of course ruined by them winning the Champions League final against Arsenal in the 2005-06 season but like I said, the other three games might offer us the odd crumb of hope.
On squad news, Barcelona do without Gabriel Milito through injury although Rafa Marquez returns. Sadly, neither Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Eto’o or Henry will be missing. For Chelsea though, Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira remain out for the season and both Ricardo Carvalho and Deco are unlikely to make it back from their hamstring injuries. And whilst Chelsea captain John Terry is back from his suspension, Ashley Cole sits this one out courtesy of an unnecessary yellow against Liverpool.
Lionel Messi – the Argentinean is having a great season and is the Champions League’s top scorer right now with 8 goals from nine games. Add to that the fact that he won’t even have a recognised left-back marking him and he is going to cause us a lot of problems.
Didier Drogba – the Ivorian has scored in each of our last five Champions League games and one more would break the record for scoring in the most consecutive Champions League games by a club. Mind you, it’s not just his attacking skills we’ll be relying on in this game because I’ve got a feeling we’ll be needing his physical presence in amongst our defence for this one as well.
HEAD TO HEAD
This is our fifth meeting in the Champions League, with us progressing twice – in the 2004-05 and 2006-07 seasons. In total, from 11 games against Barcelona, we’ve managed four wins to their five, four of those have been at the Nou camp although the last two there have been drawn.
Barca have scored the most goals in the Champions League this season (29) and are just 2 goals shy of Real Madrid’s record total of 850 in European competition. Barca have also reached the Champions League semi-finals for a record sixth time and for the second time in succession.
On the road to the semi-finals Barca have won six, drawn three and lost one. In their last Champions League game, they drew 1-1 away at Bayern Munich, with a 5-1 win on aggregate.
We’ve reached the semi-finals of the Champions League for our third consecutive season and for the fifth time in six seasons. In our run up to this year’s semis we’ve won five drawn four and lost won, scoring 19 and conceding 12. Our last game saw a 4-4 draw with Liverpool, giving us an aggregate win of 7-5.
It goes without saying Barcelona are the favourites not only tonight but in the tie overall and if you look at their form this season that’s no surprise. They’ve lost once in the league and once in the Champions League all season whilst we’ve managed just one win away in this competition, with three draws and a defeat along the way. On top of that, I can see Petr Cech having a touch of nerves when he’s faced with Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi and if we can keep it below 3-0 I think we’ll have done pretty good.
From: Cech, Hilario, Belletti, Alex, Ivanovic, Bosingwa, Mancienne, Terry, Lampard, Ballack, Obi, Kalou, Essien, Malouda, Di Santo, Anelka, Stoch, Drogba