Champions League - Early Doors: Barca at their most desperate
Chelsea travel to the Nou Camp this evening with Barcelona in a state they have not experienced for some time: one of desperation.
In relative terms, at least: the European champions host the Blues in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final this evening after suffering their worst week under Pep Guardiola's management.
A frustrating 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday was followed up by losing Saturday's Clasico at home to Real Madrid, a loss which all but hands their bitter rivals their first Spanish title in four years.
While a run of just two defeats on the spin would count as a mighty relief for some managers, for Guardiola it represents the strongest period of adversity he has faced since taking the job in 2008. Well, aside from having to contend with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's ego for a year, at least.
Becoming the first team to retain the Champions League was once a lofty objective for Barca, and one that would confirm their place among the pantheon of the greatest sides ever to have played the game. Now it is the only way for them to prevent this season being deemed a failure by their own high standards. Winning the Copa del Rey, the final of which they will contest against Athletic Bilbao next month, will hardly compensate.
For Chelsea, too, there is the feeling that lifting the trophy in Munich next month will be the most glorious but also the most likely way for them to salvage their season.
The Blues have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround in fortunes since Roberto Di Matteo took interim charge just seven weeks ago, but with just four games of the season remaining they are four points off the much-coveted fourth place, which is currently occupied by Newcastle.
Di Matteo's lengthy probation period for the full-time job continues unabated. A second result against Barcelona in six days – and with it a place in the final - would surely put him in the frame, for other prospective employers if not Chelsea themselves.
After their obdurate display last Wednesday, Chelsea got a little refresher course in how to stifle opposition with a 0-0 draw at Arsenal so drab it made England v Algeria at the last World Cup look like Real Madrid v Eintracht Frankfurt by comparison. If they can throw a wet blanket over a third successive match then it's a job well done.
There will be no great departure from the pattern of the first leg, in which Barca had six times as many shots on goal as Chelsea, who scored with their only effort on target. The scorer of that winner on the night, Didier Drogba, spent as much time on the deck as with the ball at his feet, and he will surely plan on getting as well acquainted with the turf in Catalonia this evening.
They may have ridden their luck at times at the Bridge, but few sides in the competition are better equipped to pull off their uber-defensive approach against Barca. John Terry may be many things, but he excels when it comes to leaping in front of a goal-bound football, while his brand of leadership (i.e. pointing and shouting) is exactly what will be required as they prepare to face the next attack.
Goalkeeper Petr Cech has made the most saves in the competition this season with 48. His opposite number, Victor Valdes, has made nine. That's right: nine.
But perhaps the most significant factor of all is that Lionel Messi, the three-time World Player of the Year, has still not scored against Chelsea in seven appearances against them. That's a full 565 minutes in which he has failed to register a goal. Going by his minute-per-goal rate in La Liga this season, he would be expected to score eight in that time.
If Chelsea's plan to ruin the occasion for everyone other than their own fans pays off, it will see them have a chance of hitting their greatest heights, while deepening Barca's despair.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "All of us working on behalf of the club are utterly shocked and dismayed by the draconian sanctions imposed on Rangers in respect of these charges." - Paul Clark, joint administrator of Rangers, reacts to the news that the club has been hit with a 12-month embargo on signing players and owner Craig Whyte has been banned from official positions in football for life following a Scottish Football Association hearing into the club's financial affairs.
FOREIGN VIEW: "I was informed of Sunday's incident and immediately contacted (Leverkusen boss) Wolfgang Holzhaeuser to apologise to Michal Kadlec in the name of Cologne. We are also offering our help in the criminal prosecution of this case and will check what legal options we have ourselves. It is not possible that players from other clubs cannot freely move around Cologne." - Cologne chief executive Claus Horstmann issues an official apology after two club supporters attacked Bayer Leverkusen's Michel Kadlec and broke the defender's nose.
Before that, we'll be taking a sideways look at the weekend's Premier League action with Hot or Not and reviewing the big refereeing decisions with The Whistleblower.
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