CHELSEA

v

BARCELONA

Stamford Bridge, London

April 18, 2012; 6:45 GMT (+5:30 IST)

.

***

The Champions League semifinals of this season will pitch a rematchAi??of the classic and controversial 2009 semifinal tie between Chelsea and Barcelona. Every football fan remembers ‘that’ semifinal vividly, be it for Iniesta’s miraculous goal and Tom Henning Overbo’s controversial officiating, with Chelsea supporters feeling that they were cheated of a place in the finals.

Three years later, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona have gone from strength to strength and are widely acknowledged as one of the greatest teams of all-time. They have reached this stage in fully dominant fashion, without losing a single match on the way and scoring 33 goals in 10 matches. They have also been in great form in the league lately, winning each of their last 11 matches, with Lionel Messi on an unstoppable scoring spree.

Chelsea, on the other hand, are no longer the force they once were. They are struggling in the league and their path was far from convincing, but they will relish the chance to face Barcelona again and they will aim to reach the final in Munich. Their performance improved a lot under Di Matteo, with the old guard seemingly finding it in them to make one last push.

Team News and Tactical Brief

Chelsea

Ashley Cole, who had been out with an ankle injury, was declared fit and played in Chelseaai??i??s FA Cup game against Spurs and Ai??heai??i??ll surely be in the lineup to face Barcelona on Wednesday.
Ivanovic, who sat out Sundayai??i??s semifinal clash serving the first of his three-game suspension, will be back in the side as well. John Terry is expected to partner Luiz in the centre of the defense, assuming the latter is fit for the match. Luiz picked up a muscle injury in the clash against Tottenham and is a doubt for Wednesday; if he’s not fit, Cahill will take his place.
Essien surely needs some playing time to face Barcelona. In his absence, Mikel and Lampard have shared the defensive midfielderai??i??s job, ratherAi??un-spectacularly. Sturridge and Kalou are expected to provide the width, while Mata will be given carte blanche in the playmaking role.
Up front, Sundayai??i??s game against Spurs will probably play a big role in whom Di Matteo is going to field as the lone striker against Barcelona. Drogba’s excellent performance will probably earn him a starting place on Wednesday.
Since his appointment, Di Matteo has somewhat tinkered with the 4-3-3 formation of Chelsea, by making it slightly defense-heavy into a 4-2-3-1, in order to aid a leaky defense. The change has worked wonders so far, with Chelsea showing improvement, at least in the results. Chelsea are not maintaining a high defensive line either and instead have taken a deep-seated approach in defense. Of late, their attack has stemmed from all directions as Mata, playing behind the lone striker, connected well with both wide players ( Kalou and Sturridge) to produce guilt-edged chances down the flanks as well as down the centre. Chelsea have improved their game in the set-pieces as well, scoring a number of goals from corner-kicks. Chelsea are expected to play a waiting game against Barcelona on Wednesday, sitting deep and trying to hit Barcelona on the counter.
The only chink remains Chelseaai??i??s build up play, which has been on the slower side, right throughout the season. If they need to take advantage of Barcelonaai??i??s aggressive wing backs during counter-attacks, they will have to transit fast from defense to attack and will have to try and keep hold of the ball to deny Barcelona the point(s).
Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1):Ai??Cech;Ai??Ivanovic, Luiz, Terry, Cole; Lampard, Essien; Mata, Kalou, Sturridge;Ai??Drogba

Barcelona

Things are looking better for Barcelona, than at any other point of the season as far as injuries are concerned; at this point, only PiquAi?? is a doubt and only Afellay, Villa and FontA?s are completely ruled out, for obvious reasons. Ai??Those three apart, Pep Guardiola has the entire squad at his disposal.

The Barcelona manager has been extremely unpredictable with his tactics (from 4-3-3 to 3-3-4), making it impossible to guess the lineup for Wednesday. Lionel Messi will surely start, as will the midfield core of Busquets, Xavi and Iniesta, but apart from that it’s anybody’s guess.

If PiquAi?? is fully recovered, he should start in the center of defense, either along Mascherano with Puyol on the left and Alves on the right, or just with Mascherano and Puyol, with Alves taking a winger role. The second option would probably mean a starting place for Cesc Fabregas in a midfield four. Up front, Messi is a certainty but the other two spots are a big question mark – Sanchez, Pedro, Cuenca, Tello, even Fabregas and Alves,Ai??all are candidates to those two spots on the wings next to Messi.

One of the great strengths of this year’s Barcelona is their tactical unpredictability, Chelsea just don’t know exactly what they will be facing on Wednesday.

Probable Lineup: Victor ValdAi??s; Puyol, PiquAi??, Mascherano, Alves; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta; Pedro, Sanchez, Messi

Key Match Facts

  1. Barcelona and Chelsea have faced 10 times in the Champions League, with Barcelona winning 3, Chelsea winning 3 and 4 draws. Both teams have scored 15 goals.
  2. Lionel Messi has never scored against Chelsea.
  3. Fernando Torres scored 7 goals against Barcelona during his time at AtlAi??tico.
  4. Chelsea have won all their home matches in the Champions League so far, while Barcelona have never lost on the road and only drawn once.

TheHardTackle’s Players to Watch Out For

Juan Mata (Chelsea)

Chelsea's main weapon

.

The Spanish playmaker has been Chelsea’s best player this season and he will have to be at his very best for Chelsea to have a chance in this tie. His vision and creativity, along with great shooting from distance, might pose Barcelona great problems, as he usually did during his time at Valencia. Chelsea’s chances will be on Juan Mata’s hands.

AndrAi??s Iniesta (Barcelona)

Will it be Deja vu?

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It’s kind of an inevitable choice. Iniesta will be back to the ground where he became a hero for every Barcelona fan three years ago. Not only will his return to Stamford Bridge have great significance, he’s also a key player in the team, with his darting runs down the middle being key for Barcelona’s great form in recent weeks. Expect Iniesta to have a great impact in this tie yet again.

TheHardTackle’s Prediction

Chelsea 0-0 Barcelona

In a match of such great importance, neither team will take too many risks. Barcelona know that they have the second leg at Camp Nou to decide the tie, while Chelsea will know that if they open up, Barcelona can run riot. The match will turn out to be Ai??cagey affair, with Barcelona normally controlling possession but not creating many scoring chances, and the tie will be decided at Camp Nou.

TheHardTackle’s Blast From the Past

___

Check out THT’s unique feature on how does this tie serve as an act of revenge for both the clubs here.

Catch THT’s resident authors representing Chelsea and Barcelona in a verbal duel here.

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3 Responses to “Chelsea vs Barcelona Preview – Champions League Semifinals First Leg: Old Foes Meet Again”

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  1. Shivam says:

    before you fill up the probable line-ups column, please make sure you know which players are injured or not. luiz is mostly out for some time with a hamstring so he definitely is not likely to start. maybe if he recovers soon, he might be only on the bench