Barcelona v. Chelsea – UEFA Champions League Semifinal Preview

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Barcelona v. Chelsea
UEFA Champions League, Semifinals

First Leg: Tuesday, April 28, 2009 – Estadio Camp Nou, Spain
Second Leg: Wednesday, May 6, 2009 – Stamford Bridge, England

Chelsea are playing their best football of the season. They’re coming off one of the greatest weeks ever as they vanquished fellow Premiership rival, Liverpool, in the Quarterfinals, and defeated in-form Arsenal to advance to the F.A. Cup Final.

They’re even throwing around the “T-word” around, as they’re heavy favorites to win the F.A. Cup, they’re in the Semis of the Champions League, and they’re in third place in the Premiership (although their chances of winning are remote after their recent scoreless draw against Everton). They’re playing with confidence and flair, and are on top of the world.

Too bad they have to play Barcelona.

The odds-on favorite to win the Champions League, Barca have Treble aspirations of their own. The stats are well-known at this point, but bear repeating. They have scored more goals in La Liga than any other club. In fact, their top three scorers, Samuel Eto’o, Lionel Messi, and Thierry Henry, have scored more goals than all but two clubs in the league (Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid).

While their fellow Semifinalists were struggling in their Quarterfinal ties, Barcelona were dispatching Bayern Munich with ease, notching what turned out to be the decisive goal during the 12th minute of the first leg. Barcelona have been ruthlessly efficient ever since the Knockout Stage began, and they’ve never been in any real danger of crashing out.

Most importantly, they haven’t experienced the kind of injuries or distractions that wiped out their Champions League campaign last season. During last season’s Semifinals against Manchester United, Lionel Messi was hurt and was not much of a factor, Thierry Henry had been relegated to the bench and was rumored to be on the way out, and the Ronaldinho saga was a major distraction to everyone on the squad.

This season, however, almost all of their key players have been healthy. In fact, Xavi has started 29 out of Barcelona’s 31 Liga matches, Eto’o and Daniel Alves have each made 27 starts, Messi has made 24, Henry and Carlos Puyol have each made 23, and Iniesta has made 18. The competition for first-team football has been so great that summer-signings Alexander Hleb (15 million Euros), Seydou Keita (13 million Euros), and Martín Caceres (16.5 million Euros) have made a combined 23 league starts.

However, all has not gone according to plan for Barca. They seemed destined to win La Liga in a cakewalk until back-to-back losses in late February/early March to Espanyol and Atletico Madrid allowed Real Madrid to get within striking distance. They still have a solid lead in the standings, however the pressure from Real Madrid could affect Barca’s preparation for the Champions League. Especially against a Chelsea squad that seems to be peaking at the right time.

Chelsea have risen from the dead ever since Guus Hiddink took over from the hapless Luiz Felipe Scolari, and they are riding high. However, if there’s been any chink in their armor, it’s been their defense. After giving up three quick goals, at home, to an unheralded Bolton side, Chelsea continued their charitable ways, conceding four to a Liverpool squad that played without Steven Gerrard. Additionally, they had to come from behind against Arsenal during the F.A. Cup Semifinal after giving up Theo Walcott’s opener. For a defense that’s been suspect in recent weeks, having to contain the likes of Eto’o, Henry, Messi, Xavi, and Iniesta is hardly the tonic that they need.

And of all that was with their starting left-back, Ashley Cole, in the lineup. That won’t be the case during the first leg as Cole will be suspended after picking up a yellow card during the previous round. Chelsea were counting on Cole to mark Messi, and now that task could fall to Jose Bosingwa. Cole is not without his faults, however he’s usually done well in big situations like this (just ask Cristiano Ronaldo). Bosingwa had a decent game against Ronaldo at the Old Trafford (who needed Evra’s pace to double-team the right-back) but he’ll be thrust out of position at the left. As such, Cole’s suspension could put Chelsea behind the 8-ball before the match even starts.

These teams are no strangers to one another. They faced each other during the 2004-2005 Round of 16, with Chelsea winning a close tie by an aggregate score of 5-4, and again in 2005-2006 when Barcelona got their revenge en route to their most recent Champions League title. Will Chelsea pull off the upset? Or will Barcelona dispatch of Chelsea the same way they have with all their other opponents, thus far?

Also See:

You can watch the Champions League semifinals and other football games live online. Here’s our guide to watching live football online, and if you’re looking for free options then here’s our guide to watching football online for free.

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