Barcelona's Daniel Alves (right) and Chelsea's Didier Drogba (left) argue.
Photo by: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Barcelona head to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea on Wednesday night determined to see beauty triumph over the beast.
The Champions League semi-final is on a knife-edge after a 0-0 draw at Camp Nou, and reputations will count for nothing as The Best Club in the World look to triumph over The Best League in the World.
History suggests they may struggle. Having been out-muscled against Liverpool in 2007, they failed to break down Manchester United in 2008 and found it difficult to play their usual game against Chelsea in the first leg.
The post-match interviews after that game – with accusations of anti-football and unfair treatment from the referees – seemed to hint that Barca may still have something to learn about the uglier side of the game and they will have given Chelsea encouragement for the second leg.
Guus Hiddink has countered that ‘it is a man’s game’. Didier Drogba does 'not understand why they are complaining’. Michael Ballack feels that ‘maybe they expected us to roll over for them and, because we didn’t, they don’t think it’s fair’. The feeling seems to be that Barca struggle to deliver when the going gets tough.
However, this is a new, improved Barca side, and keeping their renowned attack at bay for a second 90 minutes is no mean feat. Should they score an away goal, Chelsea have a monumental uphill struggle.
As Barca defender Daniel Alves says: “An away goal would prove decisive – if we take the lead, nobody will be able to prevent us from going through to the final.”
Their 6-2 win over title rivals Real Madrid at the Bernabeu on Saturday showed that they can deliver under pressure and that drawing a blank at home to Chelsea had done little to dent their confidence.
Yet there were worrying defensive errors in that victory as well as in other games in recent weeks and, with Carles Puyol suspended and Rafael Marquez injured for Wednesday night, 22-year-old Gerard Pique is likely to play alongside the inexperienced Martin Caceres.
Furthermore, Thierry Henry is battling a knee problem and may not be fit for the match.
Chelsea, meanwhile, are still without Ricardo Carvalho, but Alex is expected to overcome a slight groin injury and Ashley Cole returns from suspension.
The feeling is that Nicolas Anelka is unlikely to start up front as Chelsea look to remain compact and restrict the space and, as such, a triumph for Barcelona may well represent a triumph for the beautiful game.
Yet, as Pep Guardiola acknowledges, the best side will come out on top and there is no use blaming tactics or referees if they fail to live up their billing.
“There are no excuses,” he said.
“Whoever reaches the final is the better side. Referees do not make the difference.
“There is a desire to get to the final and whoever comes out on top is better. Whoever gets there deserves it.”