Sometimes it seems that every adjective in the English dictionary has been used to describe Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona side. Awesome, brilliant and sensational are a sample trio which could feasibly have been used in a headline reporting on yet another win for the Catalan giants. They are meticulous, efficient and beautiful to watch, of that there can be no denying, quite possibly adored the world over, save a handful of venues.
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Madrid is one – for obvious reasons – while another much closer to home is anticipating Barca’s arrival with relish. On Wednesday night, Barcelona will step foot inside Stamford Bridge, one of the only places on earth where they are totally despised.
We appreciate the finer side of Barcelona; the elegance of Leo Messi and the artistry of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. We marvel at the way they play, keeping the ball away from the opposition like a school-yard bully would tease his victim. We run out of ways to emphasise just how good they truly are. Just like everyone else. But we also really, really hate Barcelona.
Jealousy? Maybe. Sour grapes? Perhaps. Bad memories? Definitely.
Matches between Chelsea and Barcelona have been eventful to say the least. The two sides have played each other in five separate seasons in the Champions League, with four of the double-headers taking place in the knock-out stages. Chelsea have progressed just once. The hatred intensifies.
But with Barcelona as heavy favourites this season, and the Blues’ below-par league campaign now overshadowed by impressive resilience in Europe, some believe a surprise could be on the cards. Interim manager Roberto di Matteo is under no long-term pressure to succeed, and entering into the game off the back of a 5-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup semi-final last weekend is perfect preparation for his side.
However, Barcelona are unbeaten in fifteen games since losing 3-2 to Osasuna back in February, and have themselves managed fifteen goals in their last five games. Mierda! Guardiola has also got one-up on the affable Italian: he captained the Barcelona side on 18th April 2000 – twelve years ago to the day of this season’s match – which beat Chelsea 5-1. Di Matteo was a starter that day.
A bullish performance from Didier Drogba against Spurs should force him into the starting line-up against Barca on Wednesday, particularly given his emotional – and expletive-filled – outburst following the two clubs’ last meeting back in 2009. One imagines he is fairly up for this game, and an on-form Drogba should worry the Barcelona backline. Branislav Ivanovic is available after missing the Spurs game due to a domestic suspension, while David Luiz may miss out after pulling up during Sunday’s win.
Barcelona have Dani Alves and Gerard Pique available again after injury, with Seydou Keita and Ibrahim Afellay also coming back to strengthen the ranks. Carlos Puyol and Javier Mascherano are at risk of missing the second-leg at the Camp Nou, however, as they are one yellow card away from a suspension.
Reasons to be optimistic: the Blues have a perfect record at home in the Champions League this season, winning five from five and only conceding two goals in the process. Messi – despite all the records he has broken – has never breached the Chelsea backline in six attempts.
Expect the usual controversies, shocks, fisticuffs and drama – baggage that tends to accompany meetings between Chelsea and Barcelona. A good start at home is required, but one-leg isn’t enough to see off Barca. They will aim to impress, but it won’t be enough to win our affections. We have a history.