MATCH PREVIEW – FC BARCELONA
Under a cloud of trash talking FC Barcelona have come to Britain to take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the second leg of their Champions League clash. Following the Chelsea squad’s conspicuous silence after the first leg, the Spanish side’s fighting talk will add yet more fire to a game of epic potential.
Trailing 2-1 from Barcelona, the Blues will need the performance of the season to if they are to dump Europe’s slickest attacking side out of Europe. The Catalan president Joan Laporta doesn’t fancy their chances, branding Jose Mourinho’s side overly defensive in a curious pre-game interview. Little has been said from the home side’s Cobham training base suggesting that Mourinho would on this occasion like to let the football do the talking and bring an Abramovich-like silence over the Barcelona board of directors.
The most home speculation has revolved around Dutch winger Arjen Robben and his will he, won’t he build up to the game. Recovering form two broken bones in a foot in double quick time has allowed Robben to be on the verge of full fitness and a place on the bench seems the most likely outcome.
This will allow Joe Cole, Robben’s deputy, to resume his place in the spotlight under which he has performed so well in recent games. Deservedly named man of the match in Chelsea’s defeat of Norwich City on Saturday, Cole has saved some of his best form of the past two seasons for Chelsea’s recent time of need. His and Damien Duff’s influence on Tuesday will be vital to Chelsea’s chances of success. Barcelona’s attacking tendencies will leave room for the Chelsea wingers to exploit, should they lose possession.
With Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o, Ludovic Giuly and Deco in the starting eleven, it is clear what the visitor’s plan will be. Away goals are the key in the eyes of their coach Frank Rijkaard and sitting back and defending their one-goal advantage will not be an option. This makes for a fascinating clash once more between the Chelsea defence and the fluent Spanish attack. Much will depend on the winner of this battle.
Last time around John Terry and co. were winning the day until Didier Drogba’s sending off led to an irrepressible onslaught from Ronaldinho and the like. A clean sheet for Chelsea in London would leave only the task of scoring one at the other end – a task that will fall in part to Eidur Gudjohnsen in the absence of the suspended Drogba. More than ever on Tuesday, the first goal will be vital.
After last season’s European heartbreak at the hands of Monaco, Chelsea will be desperate to overcome a confident Barcelona outfit. Despite the hype surrounding the visitors, the Blues have the tools to perform the task. Their array of shutouts in domestic football is testament to their defensive qualities that will need to be finely tuned for a night of drama at Stamford Bridge. Last season the West Stand raised a sign reading ‘2-0’ – the required score line against Monaco – though perhaps this time the phrase ‘clean sheet’ would be more appropriate.