The Blues have the unenviable task this evening of trying to stop what most agree are the greatest club side to have graced the game.
Barcelona are the visitors to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final showdown against Chelsea, with few giving the home side a chance of walking away with anything more than a defeat.
But is there any hope for Chelsea, and are there any weaknesses in Pep Guardiola’s side to exploit? GMF looks into just how Chelsea can spring the surprise of this season.
Keep 11 men on the pitch
It is very easy to get frustrated and ragged against Barcelona. They probe away and keep the carousel going round and round before pouncing at pace in the final third to leave their opponents baffled and angry.
Chelsea have felt this frustration before, while they have also been irate at refereeing decisions that have gone against them which has caused them to lose sight of the main objective.
All three of Chelsea's defeats in ten matches against Barcelona since 2000 have come when they have had a player sent off.
Barcelona are a difficult team to beat with 11 men on the pitch. They can do without making the job nigh on impossible for themselves by maintaining their discipline, staying calm and waiting for Barcelona to grow frustrated or tired themselves. Whatever they do, Chelsea cannot afford to give them a leg up.
While the battle for selection between Fernando Torres and Didier Drogba has garnered the most attention, Roberto di Matteo's selection in midfield will give the clearest idea of his game plan.
Di Matteo has gone backwards in terms of the style of play Chelsea now use and so has his team selection – while under Andre Villas-Boas John Obi-Mikel, Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou barely got a sniff the former West Brom manager has used their experience and workrate to restore the Chelsea of old.
Mikel may be charged with being a midfield enforcer – a difficult job with Lionel Messi operating in between midfield and defence, while Raul Meireles is the most mobile of Chelsea’s options but is unlikely to start with Frank Lampard to get the nod.
With Mata and Kalou likely to be deployed out wide in effectively a five man midfield that morphs to a 4-3-3, the three men, whoever they are, in the middle of the park must make sure they remain tactically disciplined and ensure they get on the front foot where possible. Then Chelsea can get a grasp the game and start dictating to their opponents rather than the other way round.
Remember the past
Chelsea and Barcelona have forged their own mini rivalry across the past decade or so – from the Anders Frisk debacle which saw Jose Mourinho billed as the 'enemy of football’ in 2005 to Didier Drogba’s rant at the full-time whistle in 2009, there have been plenty of memorable nights with these two involved.
Inevitably the build up to tonight’s encounter has been full of glances back at their memorable encounters, and while it could be argued that Barcelona have reached a new level in the three years since they last met, the Blues can draw strength from their previous meetings.
Juan Mata claims his former Valencia team-mates have told him Barcelona do not relish the task of playing Chelsea away from home while Cesc Fabregas believes they have gone back to their rough and ready style of the past that helped them be so successful against the Catalan club in the past.
Their record reads just two defeats in their last seven meetings with Barcelona, while they have been on the receiving end of some dubious decisions that have swung games that were ultimately draws against them, most notably in 2009. Di Matteo can summon memoires of the past at knock Barcelona off their stride.
In none of the eight league games that Barcelona have dropped points in this season have the opposition streamed forward with all guns blazing – Barca are simply too incisive with the ball at their feet to let a team charge forward and not pick them off.
Athletic Bilbao, who secured a 2-2 draw, have their own idiosyncratic style which Chelsea can’t replicate, while Osasuna and Levante - who managed to beat Guardiola’s side - caught the La Liga champions cold. Valencia and Sociedad caught them at a rare slump in confidence to ensure a point each.
All of those games had one thing in common - Barcelona’s opponents did not go toe to toe with them.
Barcelona cherish the ball and press incredibly hard to get it back when they don’t have it, meaning they will enjoy the lion's share of possession.
If Chelsea can stick gainfully to their task without being drawn in to sitting too deep and giving Barca a chance to weave their pretty patterns in front in and out of a blue line on the edge of the penalty area they may be able to pounce on the break and through set pieces. It won’t be pretty but could be pretty effective. They simply must remain organised.
Use Drogba wisely
Didier Drogba is expected to get the nod tonight, and should he start he will be key to Chelsea’s plans.
Drogba has been inconsistent this season – upset it would seem by the chopping and changing and the removal of his status at the club as the main man, but when the big games have come he has sparked into life.
Drogba can upset Barcelona’s rhythm and ensure the visitors do not settle into their game plan – the Ivorian striker upset Tottenham on Sunday and they looked unsettled at the back which had a knock-on effect for the rest of the team.
Carles Puyol, so often Barca’s rock at the back will likely start at full-back tonight because of injuries, meaning Drogba will have the chance to unsettle a less experienced campaigner who will fill in for the Barca captain.
He may be on his way out of Chelsea at the end of the season but he has to make sure Chelsea play at the right pace, while his team-mates must find the line between ruffling Barca’s feathers and lumping the ball long. It could be a long night for Barcelona if Drogba is on song.
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