A Blue Up North previews a massive match away in Barcelona.
Chelsea visit Barcelona on Wednesday evening for their second leg encounter in the Champions League last 16. But as daunting a task as taking on the Spanish giants in the impressive Camp Nou is, we only have to go back to 2012 to see that Chelsea is a club more than capable of getting through against such odds.
Yes, 6 years ago, The Blues may have won the first leg at home, but they had been going through an indifferent season and had the recently appointed Roberto Di Matteo as manager after the dismissal of André Villas-Boas. Barcelona took an early lead to level up the scores, but then the Catalans took control of the tie when captain John Terry was sent off, immediately followed by a second goal for the home side.
All hope seemed to have gone. 2-0 down on the night, and with only 10 men, against the best side in the world in their own back yard. However their was a steely resilience and determination flowing through The Blues and a glorious goal from Ramirez put The Londoners back ahead on aggregate. What followed was possibly the biggest football barrage ever seen on the pitch, but the Chelsea players to a man dug deep and held firm. Then we witnessed one of the greatest moments in Chelsea Football Club’s history.
A long ball, that was not much more than a big hoof to gain a short breath before the next onslaught against the Chelsea defence, found Fernando Torres with half of the pitch all to himself. His pace was electric, but his glide around the hapless keeper was glorious. As the ball rolled into the goal, there wasn’t a dry eye amongst all Chelsea fans all around the world.
The only way that could have been bettered would have been Di Matteo leading his side to glory in Munich and lifting the trophy. And so the greatest chapter in the club’s history was completed.
That was not the most talented, gifted side Chelsea have been able to amass, but the never say die attitude of them was what carried them through in the toughest of circumstances to the biggest prize in European football. And it will take similar levels of togetherness and grit from the current side to record a result that will see them through into Friday’s quarter final draw.
In the first leg at Stamford Bridge 3 weeks ago, Chelsea played an almost perfect game. They dominated almost the entire match and a team that is one of the best in the world were extremely lucky to not be completely over run and out of the tie.
However, a combination of a lack of conviction in front of goal and a gifted equaliser means the Catalans will be strong favourites to progress. Barcelona are 8 points clear at the top of La Liga and 15 points ahead of current European champions and their bitter rivals Real Madrid. Barcelona’s last defeat at home was to Malaga way back in April last year.
The Catalans followed the first leg by thumping Girona at home before a surprisingly lacklustre draw at Las Palmas. Their last home match was a tight, hard fought 1-0 victory over second placed Atlético Madrid and they won away at Malaga without Lionel Messi over the weekend, while the Argentinian was with his wife as she gave birth to their third child.
Messi is back with the squad and ready to face his greatest nemesis, but Andreas Iniesta is struggling with a hamstring problem. If he fails a late fitness test the hosts will be without one of the greatest midfielders in the world. He is the heart and soul of the team and is their driving force and is pivotal to their possession driven style. To add to that, his obvious replacement Denis Suarez is already ruled out.
Antonio Conte’s side have no new injury concerns and Antonio Rudiger is available to return after missing out against Crystal Palace at the weekend. All the talk about the Italian’s starting line up will be about the front line. Will he revert back to a trio of pacy runners who did so well in the first leg or will Olivier Giroud keep his place and be a focal point for The Blues’s attacks.
The line up, their formation and the tactics they are sent out with are important, but the key will be their resolve, both individually and collectively. Conte’s side will want to take inspiration from that 2-2 semi-final draw at the Nou Camp in 2012 and how they never gave up, fighting til the end despite near impossible circumstances. After all, DiMatteo did not have going down to 10 men as part of his line up or tactics.
For all who follow The Blues, we can only believe that our team can do it all again and with Eden Hazard and Willian in the form they are currently in, it is not beyond the realms of fantasy that Chelsea will be in Friday’s draw.
Written by Jon Ellis, home and away season ticket holder. Follow him on Twitter @ClitheroeBlue