Chelsea, Barca out to settle old scores
LONDON: As if a place in the Champions League final isn't motivation enough for Chelsea and Barcelona to win their semi-final second leg at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, both sides will also be fuelled by the chance to settle a few old scores.
For Barcelona, the frustration of being stopped from scoring at the Nou Camp for the first time this season in last week's first leg was exacerbated by the feeling that Chelsea had emerged unscathed from the Catalan cauldron by resorting to the game's dark arts.
It is a source of pride to Barca's fans that their team has always remained true to their purist principles. So to see Chelsea play in such a negative, niggly manner and still avoid defeat drew a furious response from Pep Guardiola's players. Xavi led the protests against Chelsea's "anti-football" but, inevitably the Blues were unrepentant and Barca would relish the chance to reach the final by eliminating a club who present such an affront to their beliefs.
Losing in the semi-finals to Manchester United last season was painful enough but the prospect of bowing out at the same stage to Chelsea is too awful to contemplate. But that desire won't guarantee Barca get their wish as Chelsea have plenty of additional incentive to complete the road to Rome themselves.
The Blues were one kick away from winning Europe's elite club competition last May when
John Terry ran up to take a penalty in the teeming Moscow rain. If Terry had converted that spot-kick, Chelsea would have won the shoot-out against Manchester United, but the England captain slipped up as he struck the ball, saw his effort clip the post and it was United who took the trophy.
Chelsea winger Florent Malouda admits the squad are still haunted by that agonising near-miss and he knows only a victory over United or Arsenal in this year's final can erase those bitter memories. "Last year, to be in the final, was a very good experience but also bad," Malouda said.
"It was a shame to lose. We are all determined now to get to Rome and win the trophy because we have come close before."
Barca will go through with a score-draw however and the Spanish league leaders arrive in west London in great spirits after thrashing Real Madrid 6-2 in the Bernabeu on Saturday.
That win all but sealed the title for Barca and Argentina forward Lionel Messi, who scored twice, is convinced they are capable of putting Chelsea to the sword in similar fashion.
Barca's hopes of claiming the away goal that could prove so crucial would be dented if France striker Thierry Henry is unable to recover from a knee injury suffered against Real.
Reports suggesting Henry would be out for two weeks have been denied by Barca, but the Catalans are definitely without suspended centre-back Carlos Puyol and injured fellow defender Rafael Marquez.
Those absences leave Barcelona dangerously short of defensive options but, lest his players start to feel over-confident, Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink was quick to emphasise their opponents' strength in depth.
"They can replace the two players rather easily," Hiddink said. "They are well equipped to bring a team which is able to play well. It won't make a huge difference." Hiddink has his own injuries problems with Portugal internationals Ricardo Carvalho and Deco sidelined, but England left-back Ashley Cole is available after missing the first leg through suspension.