Barcelona’s mantle as the best team in Europe is set to be tested over the next week, with three mouth-watering fixtures ready to challenge Pep Guardiola’s men. With the Champions League semi-final first leg against Chelsea on Wednesday, the Clasico against age-old adversaries Real Madrid on Saturday and the return leg against the Blues at Camp Nou next Tuesday, the Catalan team’s season will be defined by these three fixtures. Barelona may be the soccer betting favourites for each individual game but how they hand three consecutive, insanely high intensity games will make or break their season.
Chelsea and Stamford Bridge are first up for the European champions, with the Spaniards sure to be subject to pressure from a fired up home side and passionate crowd. Although Barcelona are favourites for the tie (and the tournament), a difficult first leg will be expected away from home. The Blaugrana will have taken notice at the ruthless treatment received by the likes of Valencia, Benfica and Napoli at the Bridge this term, and know that a solid performance will be needed.
Roberto Di Matteo’s men are fresh from dispatching Tottenham 5-1 in the FA Cup semi-finals, and will go into the game full of confidence. The west London club will feel that they have unfinished business against Barca, given the 2009 tie in which the Spanish giants eliminated the Premier League team from the tournament, with a last minute Andres Iniesta goal sending the Catalans through on aggregate.
Despite the Catalan side’s dominance on the continent over recent years, the side have a mediocre record when travelling to England. On top of the aforementioned struggle against the Blues in 2009, Guardiola’s men were also beaten 1-0 at Old Trafford and eliminated from the 2007-08 competition by Manchester United. Arsenal also beat the eventual winners 2-1 at the Emirates last term, before the tie was brought back in Barcelona’s favour in the return leg. The Spaniards will be confident that they can outplay Chelsea at Camp Nou, but will hope to record a strong away result to ease their passage through to the final.
Barcelona have had a hex over arch-enemies Real Madrid during Guardiola’s reign at the club, however despite a 3-1 win at the Santiago Bernabeu earlier this campaign, the Blaugrana trail Jose Mourinho’s men by four points with five games remaining. With Los Blancos the visitors to Catalunya on Saturday, the hosts will know that anything other than victory will surely mean relinquishing their La Liga title to the capital-city side.
With Madrid also in the other semi-final of the Champions League, Saturday’s game could be a dress-rehearsal for the finale of Europe’s top club competition. Although Barcelona have only lost once in their last 14 games against Madrid, Guardiola will know that his side will be in for a test this weekend.
Mourinho’s side have been in imperious form domestically and on the continent this term, scoring 107 times in 33 games in the Primera Division, and winning every game in the Champions League this term. In Cristiano Ronaldo the visitors have a player desperate to prove his worth against the Blaugrana and Lionel Messi, whilst the Portuguese coach’s track record of success and will to win has been drilled into his side.
All-in-all, this Barcelona team is ready to cement its place in history as one of the best and most dominant in European football’s history. Progression to the final of the Champions League and a victory over Madrid could be the foundation for another momentous double, with the Copa del Rey final also still to play against Athletic Bilbao also. However, a slip in concentration could see this group of players lose their untouchable status, and show a shift both at home and in Europe in favour of their greatest rivals.