Britain’s final representatives in the Champions League are desperate to avenge their defeat at the same semi-final stage in 2009 courtesy of Andres Iniesta’s away goal in a game marred by several contentious decisions from Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, including two clear penalties which weren’t given Chelsea’s way.
“Everyone’s got unfinished business with Barcelona,” says Frank Lampard. “They’re the greatest team in the world. They have been and still are. But that game is still in our minds. They’ll be favourites but we’ve got belief.”
It’s that sort of belief which has taken Chelsea to where they are in this season’s competition, leaving the likes of Premier League leaders Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City – teams with arguably far more natural skill – in their slipstream.
World-beaters they most certainly are not, as illustrated by their quarter-final win over Benfica, who were the better team in the second leg at Stamford Bridge and might well have got through had they not played the majority of the game with ten men.
In fact, there is a strong argument to suggest Chelsea are weaker now than when they got to the final under the much-maligned Avram Grant four years ago. Certainly they are not the same immovable object they were under Jose Mourinho.
Even the mercurial Mourinho, who still has the softest of spots for Chelsea and is reviled by Barcelona fans, picks the defending European champions to get through at the expense of his old club. But belief, allied to physical intimidation, can go a long way towards compensating for having less talent than your opponents. It’s called playing to your strengths and that’s exactly how Chelsea hope to exploit any weaknesses in Pep Guardiola’s side in this week’s first leg in order to find a way of staying in the tie for what is sure to be a backs-to-the-wall display at the Nou Camp.
It seems a horribly tall order given how Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and company brushed aside AC Milan in the last eight. Few teams in Europe have been able to find an answer to Barca’s penetration and flair but Blues interim boss Roberto Di Matteo says his players are determined to seize the opportunity.
“We have faced them a lot of times over the years and a lot of our players have some history against Barcelona,” Di Matteo said. “Certainly they feel a bit hard done by from when we played against them three years ago. We will find a strategy that will suit our team.”
Lying in wait for the victors over two legs are Mourinho’s Real Madrid – provided they can get past Bayern Munich.
The Germans are still reeling at losing last week’s title showdown against leaders Borussia Dortmund but have looked vastly impressive in the Champions League and have the massive incentive of knowing that next month’s final is on home soil at the Allianz Arena
Mourinho is determined to succeed where recent Real bosses have failed – at least for the last decade – and collect the biggest prize in European football, one that perennially eluded him during his time at Chelsea.
But history, as it happens, favours the Bavarians. Madrid have lost ten of their 18 matches against Bayern and, in four previous ties between the teams at the semi-final stage, the Germans have gone on to reach the final on three occasions.
The bookmakers, like most others, predict that Real will prevail and set up the mother of all mouth-watering Spanish showdowns.
Yet it could be exceedingly tight. Mourinho’s men have got to this stage without meeting a single true fellow giant of European football.
Suddenly a feared and familiar foe awaits.