Chelsea harassed and frustrated Barcelona for the full ninety minutes of their Champions League first leg tie at Stamford Bridge and emerged 1-0 winners thanks to Didier Drogba’s breakaway goal on the stroke of half-time. They are widely expected to employ the same tactics for the return leg at the Nou Camp and hope to book their place in the final.
Barcelona created several opportunities to grab a vital away goal at Stamford Bridge but were denied by a mixture of poor finishing, great defending and bad luck. The woodwork came to Chelsea’s rescue on three occasions but nobody could deny the tremendous work-rate put in by Chelsea to defeat the reigning champions. Lionel Messi was only able to break free from the stranglehold for a couple of fleeting moments and he will surely have a greater chance to shine in front of their home supporters.
Both sides had crucial domestic fixtures at the weekend and there is little time to dwell on the the first leg. Chelsea made five changes for their Premiership derby with Arsenal and managed to come away with a 0-0 draw. A win would have enabled them to reclaim a top four place but their most prized route to Champions League qualification is clearly to win the competition this year. Robert Di Matteo has scarcely put a foot wrong since being appointed as temporary coach following the dismissal of Andre Villas-Boas. He has managed his squad with great skill but now faces his stiffest test to date. If he could mastermind the defeat of Barcelona and go on to win the trophy, it would surely be impossible for the club not to offer him the job on a permanent basis.
Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola was also given no time to rest his squad with a vital game against Real Madrid at the weekend. A 2-1 defeat has severely dented their hopes of winning La Liga and puts even more pressure on them to produce the goods against Chelsea. Both sides could be forgiven for suffering the effects of fatigue after the first leg but Guardiola knows that his team need to be sharper and more incisive if they are to unlock the Chelsea defence. He must also guard against the counter attack as the pace of Ramires and Mata could easily cause his own defence problems. If Chelsea do score, Barcelona would be left needing to score three to reach the final. Didier Drogba has rightly come into some criticism for spending too much time on the floor at the Bridge, but there is no doubt that his strong-arm tactics made life difficult for the Barca defence and they looked far from comfortable. It would be a major surprise if Drogba is not leading the attack again at the Nou Camp.
Just as in the first leg, it promises to be a fascinating technical battle. Barcelona will surely throw everything at Chelsea in the opening twenty minutes in the hope of unsettling the Londoners and levelling the tie. If Chelsea can whether the storm and start creating one or two chances of their own, they will fancy their chances of upsetting the tournament favourites.