BARCELONA: Chelsea are bracing for a Barcelona onslaught as the wounded Catalans bid to recover from domestic disappointment by reaching their third Champions League final in four seasons.
The holders – stunned 1-0 by Chelsea in last week’s first-leg – completed a week to forget on Saturday when a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid at Camp Nou effectively handed the domestic title to their bitter rivals.
Chelsea will hope to exploit any lingering hangover from Saturday’s traumatic reverse to Real as they attempt to avenge their agonising elimination to Barca at the same stage three years ago.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola refused to hit the panic button after his side’s loss to Real, expressing confidence that his players would be able to raise themselves again for the visit of Chelsea.
“We’ll see if these two defeats have affected us,” said Guardiola. “We have to rest now and then pick ourselves up and see if we can find a way to beat such a physical side as Chelsea.”
Guardiola acknowledged, however, that Chelsea, who rested eight members of the side which started the first-leg in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal, were likely to be the fresher of the two teams.
“They have managed to rest some players and we have not, but as I say we’ll get some rest and start again.
“I have not been disappointed with our play in these two defeats and we’ll forget them now and prepare well.”
Chelsea, too, are unlikely to lose sight of the fact that they were comprehensively outplayed for much of the first-leg.
Barcelona enjoyed 70% possession, hit the woodwork twice and carved out three other scoring chances that they would normally have expected to convert with ease.
Chelsea’s lone shot on target proved to be Didier Drogba’s first-half winner, scored on the counter-attack after a mistake by Lionel Messi.
Di Matteo counts on ‘personal ambition’
Interim Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo is under no illusions about the scale of the task in front of his side.
“It’s going to be a high-intensity game, mentally as well, with pressure,” said Di Matteo. “Every player that’s going to go on the pitch is at risk.”
Yet Di Matteo is hopeful that the drive of Chelsea’s senior citizens – John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech and Drogba – augurs well.
“The personal ambition of these players comes through in these games. You can see the drive and also quality that these players have.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2012.