Barcelona are one of the greatest sides ever to play the game and like all the great teams their reputation alone gives them an advantage.
The more that their stellar performances have fed the legend of their invincibility, the more respect they have been given by opponents and hence the more easily they’ve been able to dominate games against players half-expecting to be beaten.
But Barca are mortal. Like any other team they have bad days. They have dropped points in La Liga, particularly away from home and have not been as consistent as their fiercest rivals in Madrid. They have weaknesses in defence, too. Javier Mascherano is clearly not a centre half and the back three that Pep Guardiola sometimes employs is vulnerable to opponents able to play with width.
So how can Chelsea exploit these weaknesses? This is a hard-working Chelsea squad, not a fluent football unit so they can’t go toe to toe with Barca as Arsenal have done in the past. Their best approach is to try to replicate the performance they put in against Napoli, a team which, whilst not as outrageously gifted as Barcelona, does share some of the Catalan giants’ defensive frailties.
Chelsea will probably try to play a high-tempo pressing game, to be as direct as they can be and to utilise their pace and drive from midfield. They will also hope that the physical strength that runs through the spine of their team from Terry, through Lampard, to Drogba will unsettle Barcelona and that they can trouble the Spanish side from set pieces and crosses.
Still, even though this is their best gameplan, it is fraught with danger. Against Benfica in both legs of their quarter-final, Chelsea conceded most of the possession. Playing a direct game at a high tempo, they will be playing longer balls and riskier passes, which means they will be potentially giving the ball away. And against Barcelona, they will struggle to get it back.
The other problem is that, unlike the Napoli game, they don’t have the freedom to attack without inhibition. In that game, they needed goals and lots of them as they had nothing to lose. In this case, they have the pressure that comes with playing your home leg first. If they leave their defence too exposed against Barcelona, they could find themselves out of the tie on Wednesday.
Still, given that will need at least a two goal lead to take to Spain, I think Chelsea will have to gamble and that means a much more open game than usual for the first leg of a semi-final. Given that this Chelsea team is a shadow of the one that pushed Barcelona close three years ago, an away win is the likeliest result at 7/10 but I prefer to be on ‘Over 3.5 goals’ in the U/O 3.5 market at 15/8.