LONDON: Chelsea believe they can stymie the jaw-dropping goal-scoring exploits of Lionel Messi and pull off an unlikely upset against Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals tonight.
Messi took his season’s tally to an astonishing 63 goals in 52 games and another goal at Stamford Bridge would see the Argentine set a new benchmark for goals in a single Champions League campaign, taking him past the record he currently shares with Jose Altafini, who scored 14 for AC Milan in 1962-63.
The challenge for Chelsea is finding a way to prevent Messi from treating the English club’s ageing back four as an all-you-can-eat buffet. Yet Chelsea’s elder statesmen – almost certainly featuring together in a Champions League campaign for the last time – are refusing to be cowed by Messi and Barcelona’s reputation as one of the best teams of all time.
“From the start of every game, it’s fifty fifty,” said Frank Lampard. “We are in the Champions League semi-final on merit. We can’t show too much fear against them. We have to respect them but also take them on and play the way we play.
“When I watch Barcelona, I expect them to win but you have to believe in yourselves. We have given them tough games in the past and we are ready to try to do that again.”
Fear factor cost Chelsea: Alves
Barcelona defender Dani Alves has lit the touch-paper with Chelsea by suggesting fear cost the Premier League side victory in the 2009 semi-finals.
Chelsea were controversially eliminated by the Catalans following a string of hotly-disputed calls from the Norwegian referee who turned down four penalty appeals. However Alves told The Independent that Chelsea only had themselves to blame for failing to clinch victory, after midfielder Andres Iniesta’s injury-time strike sent Barcelona through to the final on away goals.
“There’s no doubt that was the hardest game we’ve played, but a team with a man advantage playing at home and winning should have attacked us more,” said Alves. “We were there to play football, to compete and try to get to the final. Chelsea did not reach the final because of fear.”
Barcelona coach Guardiola, meanwhile, was unfazed by the prospect of a physical approach from Chelsea.
“Am I worried by Chelsea’s physical approach? No, I’m not worried,” said Guardiola. “I’m used to it. We have the mentality to control this situation. It’s very important to have this mentality.”
Exploit weak links, says Chelsea manager
Meanwhile, Chelsea’s interim manager Roberto Di Matteo is adamant that there are weak links in Barcelona’s armour.
“We just need to exploit them,” he said. “You look at the way you can hurt Barcelona and create difficulties for them. I’ve seen many games. It’s not just about stopping a single player, because they have so many players that can hurt you. It has to be a team tactic, a team strategy, to be able to limit their threat.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2012.
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