Following their defeat at Newcastle, Chelsea face the resumption of the Champions League and a trip to Barcelona this Wednesday. Despite Jose Mourinho’s cool post-match interview at St James’ Park on Sunday, there will doubtless be a lot of head scratching in the team hotel this week given the alarming spate of injuries sustained by the side in their one nil defeat.
Wayne Bridge joins Arjen Robben as a certain absentee with a suspected broken ankle following an innocuous challenge with Alan Shearer. His injury could yet leave Chelsea without a senior left back for the remainder of the season with Celestine Babayaro having been sold in January. William Gallas, who would normally deputise for Bridge, is a doubt for the Nou Camp having also sustained an injury towards the end of the Newcastle game. Perhaps of most concern to Jose Mourinho however will be the injury that Damian Duff carried for the last ten minutes of Sunday’s game. Should he not recover then the Irishman would be sorely missed on Wednesday given that fellow winger Robben’s absence has severely restricted the side’s scoring potential.
With so many injuries to key players it is lucky that Mourinho’s team has character. Their performance when outnumbered against Newcastle demonstrated the type of resilience that will be required to compete with a fully fit Barcelona. Robben may have been able to cut through the Catalan defence more efficiently than Joe Cole or Mateja Kezman, but the attitude and determination of the likes of John Terry and Claude Makelele will make it equally as hard for Barcelona to trouble Petr Cech in the Chelsea goal.
The Chelsea defence, prodigiously ungenerous so far this season, will certainly face its biggest test against a Barcelona side designed to attack. In Ronaldinho the home side boast the World Player of the Year and a man capable of unexpected moments of genius. With the tight policing of his skills by Makelele and a small measure of luck, Chelsea will hope to avoid any of his no-look passes or outrageous manoeuvres costing them a goal. Looking to profit from Ronaldinho’s creativity will be Samuel Eto’o who was reportedly a target for Chelsea in the early days of Roman Abramovich’s tenure at Stamford Bridge. The Cameroon international has pace to burn and will spearhead the attack ahead of Ludovic Giuly and Deco.
The Barcelona midfield is marshalled by Xavi, a player who played so well against England in Madrid last year. His vision is complemented by the physical presence of Rafael Marquez in the holding role. The captain of Mexico is a no nonsense style of player who will look to stifle the creativity of Frank Lampard. Carles Puyol is the lynch pin in the defence and is the figurehead of the club. His reading of the game is supported by the attacking tendencies of fullbacks Giovanni Van Bronckhorst and Juliano Belletti, whilst young keeper Victor Valdes has impressed since being made coach Frank Rijkaard’s number one last season.
Mourinho will be hoping for quick recoveries from both Duff and Gallas who represent key components of the Chelsea side. The manager will recognise that individuals will not win this tie however and a solid team performance is required to set up the second leg at Stamford Bridge with Chelsea in the driving seat. An away goal would be priceless, and perhaps essential since even against a defence like Chelsea’s, Barcelona will always be a goal threat.