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Three keys to Barcelona-Chelsea
by Paul Kennedy, April 24th, 2012 12:22AM
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[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] History is not on the side of Barcelona in its semifinal series with Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League. Only twice in nine series has a team come back from a 1-0 loss in the first leg to go through to the final. And only four out of 23 times has a team lost the first leg of the semifinals and advanced. Here are three keys to Tuesday's second leg at the Nou Camp (TV: Fox Soccer, Fox Deportes, 2:30 pm ET) ...

MESSI'S FORM. Lionel Messi has scored 63 goals this season for Barcelona, four short of the record Gerd Mueller's set with Bayern Munich in the 1972-73 season, but Messi shot blanks in Barca's last two games, the 1-0 loss at Chelsea and 2-1 loss at home to Real Madrid on Saturday. He didn't even have a shot on goal, setting off alarm bells across Catalonia.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola, for one, says he is not worried.

“How many goals has he scored this season? He’s scored an incredible amount. He lives for scoring, helping his people. Let him be happy on the field.”

PIQUE'S RETURN. Central defender Gerard Pique will return to the Barca lineup after missing the first leg in London and the Madrid Clasico. His job will be to shut down Didier Drogba, who scored the lone goal in the first leg, and to come out of the Barca attack.

Talk of a rift between Pique and Guardiola has been dismissed by both men.

"Of course, I would have liked to play against Chelsea and Real Madrid," Pique said, "but it would be a mistake to think about those two games now. That will not take me anywhere."

CHELSEA'S SHAPE. Chelsea won the first leg, but Barcelona still managed to outshoot the Blues, 19-4, in London. Chelsea will have to keep its shape in the second leg or it will be under total siege.

“Many teams who play Barcelona think that you have to steal the ball from them," says Chelsea's Spanish striker, Fernando Torres. "But I don’t think that’s possible. You have to use different weapons against them. If you want to steal the ball, you won’t manage it and you’ll get tired, and then create more space for your opponent.”

  1. Carlos Thys
    commented on: April 24, 2012 at 11:38 p.m.
    What a horrid match for FC Barcelona. The real story is not that Gary Cahill had to leave early, rather that Gerard Pique was knocked out of the match by his own goalkeeper. Victor Valdes continued his poor string of performances, but, one has to say that it is a true shame that FC Chelsea goes on to the final. I don't watch soccer to watch how teams defend for 80 minutes of a match, defending like embattled troops inside their own penalty area. And I don't root for teams that did the same cowardly behavior at home in the first leg in Stamford Bridge/London. FC Chelsea is lucky that the wind is out of the sails of players at FC Barca. Barca players look like they just lack will and strength after their non stop seasons and global tours. Players like Cesc Fabregas, Dani Alves, and Andreas Iniesta just look plain worn out. Even Messi now looks like he is finally succumbing to the fatigue of non-stop year round play. And this is understandable. The new generation of FC Barca stars: Thiago, Cuenca, and Tullo are not at all ready to step up. Despite all of these problems, FC Barca are far more the team and worth admission than anything that FC Chelsea does or can do on the pitch. And: I am so TIRED of Didier Drogba throwing himself on the pitch and always stealing 6 or 8 minutes out of every match for his feigned injuries. I'd ban him for life. The guy is a total embarrassment. This is not about how well FC Chelsea defended (and used Frank Lampard "gameshmanship"), this is about how players are not optimal in the third week of April with 60+ games in their legs and no real summer or winter breaks -- season after season.
  1. Barry Thomas
    commented on: April 25, 2012 at 12:45 p.m.
    Not a Chelsea fan here, but I admired their grit and courage and I'd like to respond to Carlos on several points. 1. Barca were the better football team, but failed to beat Chelsea in two attempts (one of them against 10 men for almost an hour). I would argue that this should disqualify them from moving on to the final. Few would argue that Athletic Bilbao are a better/greater side than my beloved ManUtd, but deservedly moved beyond them, no matter the reason. 2. Carlos makes good points about the length of the season having an impact, but it was true for both teams. 3. Finally, what does he expect a depleted side to do against what is arguably the best football team on the planet, and in their stadium no less? With ten men and no center-backs, are they to be expected to play end-to-end football with flair and finesse? Is that what Barca would do? As a relative neutral, I was enthralled by the sheer drama of the match and will remember it for years to come.

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