In the buildup to the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals, both Barcelona and Chelsea have talked about the quality of their players and the fact that pound for pound, their teams are good enough to on and progress to the semi-finals (at the very least).
But that’s only half the story.
Neither Barcelona nor Chelsea are the same sides that squared off in the last 3 Champions League campaigns. Barcelona’s swagger, epitomized in part by Ronaldinho’s fiery performances, has faded and become fragile. Chelsea have, through a combination of a change of managers, mental fatigue and the opposition’s familiarity, become less of the invincible force they were 3 years ago.
And while Rijkaard and Grant talk up their players, Schalke and Fenerbahce know that the first-leg performances have given them a slight glimmer of home that they can go away, score and perhaps have a shot at snatching a semi-final berth.
It would certainly qualify as an upset – even if Fenerbahce, 2-1 ahead after the first-leg, were to engineer a scrapping draw. Thing is, they’re not coming to sit back.
“We will play the way we always play. Our style is to be offensive and play attacking football. That is why we have got this far. It won’t be any different.
Every minute is important. In the Sevilla game we were 2-0 down but came back. It might even go to extra-time.
In a game as important as this you have to be careful throughout the game and take advantage of the good spells you have.”
Chelsea have an excellent squad but sometimes players are not comfortable because of the position they are put in. I’m sure they can overcome that so we will have to be at our best.”
Over at Barcelona, the situation is similar in probable outcomes if not the details. Rijkaard has been hounded by the press all season (much like Grant) and that has seeped into the fans as well, whom Rijkaard asked to “use their energy to support the team instead” whereas Eto’o dismissed the criticism from fans, saying that there will be enough time for it at the end of the season.
Schalke aren’t going to pay any attention to that though. After overcoming Porto and storming back into 2nd spot in the Bundesliga, they are confident of going at Barcelona, exploiting their defensive frailty and the goals that should secure their passage to the semi-finals.
As with Fenerbahce, it’s hard to see Schalke upset Barcelona – they have an away goal and no matter what you do you’ll need Barcelona to play as poorly as they did against Liverpool last season to lose a Champions League game at home. It’s just not what big teams do, which is why, despite the real possibility of upsets (this isn’t Barnsley coming to play Chelsea, you know), the heavyweights should be able to withstand the pressure and come out as semi-finalists.