Chelsea versus Barça. A repeat of the controversial semi-final in 2009. A massive week for Football Club Barcelona begins on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge with the 1st leg of the Uefa Champions League semi final. Saturday’s clasico and the battle with Real Madrid for La Liga will be forgotten for the next 48 hours as Pep Guardiola’s team attempt to make the third Champions League final in four years.
Ibrahim Afellay returns to the squad after seven months and Seydou Keita is back too. Both players, as well as Gerard Piqué and Dani Alves, trained normally at Camp Nou this afternoon (Monday). Pep Guardiola named 22 players for the trip to London including Oier, Bartra, Montoya and Tello, and the team are flying out to England as I write, with an expected arrival time in London of 21.30.
To get an idea of the team Pep Guardiola will choose we might look at the team that played in Milan in the quarter final. Alves should return to a defence of four and we may see Carles Puyol at left back to make room for Piqué alongside Javier Mascherano. Guardiola nearly always finds a place for Keita in this type of game and if the Malian is totally fit there is a good chance he’ll start with Busquets and Xavi in midfield. This would mean Iniesta is used again wide on the left with the right left open for Alves while Alexis and Messi play through the middle.
Chelsea look like being without central defender David Luiz who came off with a hamstring injury during yesterday’s 5-1 win over Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. Gary Cahill would normally come in alongside John Terry but Cahill has a bruised foot and Terry has been troubled by a cracked rib. Terry should play but if Luiz and Cahill are out then Branislav Ivanovic will come in at centre back with Jose Bosingwa and Ashley Cole continuing as full backs. Frank Lampard and Mikel look likely to start in central midfield with Ramires and Juan Mata providing width. Kalou will then probably support either Didier Drogba or Fernando Torres up front. Drogba got the start against Tottenham but came off with a slight problem. It seems likely that Torres will be preferred for his speed as Chelsea look to exploit the space behind our advanced defence.
The two sides are old enemies in the Champions League, there have been ten matches in the last 13 years, and there are three wins each with four draws. Barça’s last win over 90 minutes was in 2006 with an inspired 18-year-old called Lionel Messi playing his first game in England and Samuel Eto’o heading home the winner. There have been four draws and a Chelsea win since then but the last two draws in 2009 semi-final ended in ecstasy for Barça with Andres Iniesta’s last minute goal sending Barça through to the final on away goals.
Iniesta’s goal demonstrated how fortunes can change in a moment. The games with Chelsea have always been tough so we must take our chances when we get them. With the momentous week in front of us we have to accept the possibility that we may lose both the Champions and the Liga in a week. The important thing is that we are here competing for both in the latter stages of the competitions. We may not win everything but we should at least enjoy the ride while it lasts.
Barça squad: Valdés, Pinto, Oier, Alves, Bartra, Montoya, Piqué, Mascherano, Puyol, Adriano, Keita, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Thiago, Fabregas, Pedro, Alexis, Messi, Afellay, Cuenca, Tello.
Possible starting XIs:
Chelsea: Cech; Ivanovic, Cahill, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires, Kalou, Mata; Torres.
Barça: Valdés; Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Puyol; Xavi, Busquets, Keita; Alexis, Messi, Iniesta.
My prediction: Chelsea 1 Barça 1