BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 03: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates after scoring his second goal during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg match between FC Barcelona and AC Milan at the Camp Nou stadium on April 3, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Chelsea face Barce 'more than a club' lona for the first time since 2009, when they were knocked out through some awful refereeing and a majestic strike from Andres Iniesta. Since then, the fortunes of the two clubs have gone in entirely different directions, which Chelsea slowly falling out of Europe's top tier while Barcelona have gone on to dominate the global stage like few other clubs in history.
And now, somehow, the Blues have overcome both SSC Napoli (who were excellent) and SL Benfica (who were not) to reach the semifinals again. Three matches stand between then and glory. Two of them will be played against what most are calling the best team in the world. The first is on Wednesday. Fun.
Date/Time: Wednesday, April 18th, 7:45 BST (2:45 PM EDT)
Venue: Stamford Bridge, London.
Television: FOX Deportes, FX Channel (USA), ITV 1 (UK)
The big news for Chelsea is David Luiz, whose hamstring injury has ruled him out for this week and probably for the return fixture in Spain. Chelsea will be forced to switch to their second-choice centre back pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill, which is not as well suited to Barcelona's game as one including the curly-haired one. Fortunately, it doesn't sound as though the minor injuries to Cahill, Terry and Didier Drogba will play a part. It's unclear at the moment whether or not Oriol Romeu has recovered from his illness, but he was unlikely to have started anyway.
Barcelona are missing left-back Eric Abidal following a liver transplant, adding to Barcelona's list of long term absentees. Short-term, all seems well - Xavi's withdrawal at halftime during their 2-1 win at Levante was a precautionary measure and he should be fit to start. With the Clasico coming up, however, it's unclear whether Barcelona's stars will be fit enough to play three massive matches in a seven day span, something that would play into Chelsea's hands better if they didn't have to travel to Arsenal on Saturday themselves.
An amusing quote from the presser today:
Dutch Journalist: In Holland we describe Barcelona's game as a work of art. How should we describe the game of Chelsea?
Roberto di Matteo: We play football.
I'll have a full tactical preview up later (I kind of have to go cover a couple no-names in the other semi-final, so it'll be a little while), so you'll just have to wait for that if you want an in-depth discussion on how Barcelona play, how I'd respond, and what I'd expect Roberto di Matteo to do. Here I just want to talk about some general feelings I have going into the match...
Even at home, we've got to be underdogs. I don't think Barcelona are as good as most do - I find the praise for them, especially when they're trailing Real Madrid by so much in their domestic league, a touch annoying - but they're clearly a superior side to Chelsea, who haven't even proven that they're better than Arsenal this year. Our history doesn't help us. What Jose Mourinho and Guus Hiddink's sides did to Barcelona came when we were much better than wee are now, while Barcelona were probably a touch worse off. Any psychological barrier they face from being at Stamford Bridge is probably going to be dispelled by a quick look at the league table.
That doesn't mean this is unwinnable though. Chelsea have a chance of going through, and shouldn't be written off entirely. Roberto di Matteo's whole tenure, with the exception of draws against Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur (don't worry, the Spurs one was hilariously avenged), has been about doing the impossible. Even getting here has been a ridiculous task - the Blues came back from a 3-1 defeat in the first knockout round of this competition against an excellent team, if you'll recall - and no matter what happens, we can be proud of the way this team has bounced back since the dark days February.
Chelsea are going to have to play their two best games of the season if they want to beat Barcelona, and then then they'll have to hope that they catch the Catalans on one of their bad days (they have some of those, it turns out). But that's what makes this whole tie so special. There's no downside here. There's no shame in losing to Barcelona, who've won this thing twice in the last three seasons, and if we win... well, calling that a historical result would be a bit of an understatement.
So, breathe out. Relax. Let's have fun with this. We shouldn't be here in the first place, and we've got nothing to lose. This can only be enjoyable.