It’s the return of The Crossfire, one of the most popular features on the site. Tomorrow marks the beginning of one of the toughest weeks in the calendars of Chelsea and Barcelona, who face each other in a repeat of the gruelling UEFA Champions League semi-finals of 2009. As we approach closer to the match day, we often wonder what are our rivals are thinking about the clash. So we asked a supporter from each of the clubs to give their opinions about the encounter. Chelsea is represented by Denise Hone, founder of www.thechelseablog.org, and from the Barcelona side we have totalBarça’s newest staff member Enrique. Read on to see what they think about the match, the players, and tactics.
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So, let the debate begin.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about your site.
Denise: The Chelsea Blog, in a few words: Not always pretty, sometimes rather cynical, but always realistic.
How do you rate your team’s performance this season (in the Champions League as well as EPL/La Liga)?
Denise: To say we’ve had a poor season in the Premier League is like saying Messi knows where the net is – everyone knows it. Our players look to have struggled to find the motivation in the league although judging by the fact we’re in the final of the FA Cup and we’re the only English club to have made it to the Champions League semis, they’ve clearly been more up for the big games.
Enrique: It hasn’t always been the sparkling, fast tiki taka of the first season, due both to possibly mental and physical tiredness for Barça but also the fact other teams rarely engage us in an open game, but sit back with 10 players. Any team, no matter how good the players are will find it difficult to play against that tactic week in week out. But, in the big games, they again have nearly always risen to the occasion.
Where do you think went wrong for Andre Villa-Boas with Chelsea? Do you think he deserved more time to build the squad? Or were the results and performances damaging enough to terminate his contract?
Denise: I was one of the few who felt AVB wasn’t given enough support either from the board or the players. Having said that, Roman couldn’t risk things getting any worse than they’d already got, so I completely accept the decision to step in when he did, as drastic as it might have seemed at the time.
How has Chelsea transformed under Roberto Di Matteo? What are their strengths?
Denise: I don’t think we’ve ‘transformed’ as such, there’s times we don’t look that far away from the side we’ve been all season. I have a feeling it’s a lot to do with the games getting bigger as the season nears the end – the one thing Chelsea have never shied away from is a battle, they’re just digging in to get results now.
Enrique: Transformed wouldn’t be the word I’d use, more regressed. Not in a negative way, but back to the classic game plan. From an outside view, there seemed clear subordination from the players and that showed up on the pitch. Many reputed journalists agree. That seems to have reversed now as the “old guard” are back to getting their secured starts and not being asked to do things differently. Di Matteo is just there to facilitate the process, but it doesn’t appear like he himself is responsible for the turnaround. Happy “Lampards” and “Terrys” are.
Do you think La Masia graduate and former Barca B player Oriol Romeu will get to play in the two matches?
Denise: I think it’s doubtful, we haven’t used him consistently for a while. He missed the weekend through illness and before that there was a spell out injured, so it’s maybe not the best couple of games to risk him in. I think RDM will be going with experience.
Enrique: Well he hasn’t appeared once under Di Matteo so I’d think not.
The two sides meet again after three years. Barça has the same coach and more or less the same squad. On the other hand, Chelsea has a new coach, the old guard of Terry, Lampard, Drogba, Essien and a few new faces – Mata, Torres, Meireles. How do you think Chelsea has evolved over this period?
Denise: Evolved isn’t necessarily the word I’d go for but we’ve got to the same place in the Champions League as Barcelona so far, so you’d have to say we’re getting by.
Enrique: I’d be surprised if even Chelsea fans think they have evolved much. The main criticisms and observations of Chelsea is just the opposite, that they have stagnated with the same key players that won the trophies under Mourinho. Mata has added flair and creativity and Sturridge on his day, but aside from that the game plan is not noticeably different and I’d expect a very similar showing in terms of tactics to 2008/9.
What is your take on the allegations that FC Barcelona receive favourable treatment from UEFA referees?
Denise: Shall I answer that now or when we go down to ten men and Barcelona are on their second penalty?
Enrique: It’s complete nonsense and I think any objective football observer would agree. Referees make poor decisions in every league in every country, and do so on a weekly basis. The Piqué handball is rightly questioned, but other than that I don’t believe Barça have been favored much in any way, despite what Mourinho and some media brands want others to believe. In the very same game, the Abidal sending off was just as incorrect. Chelsea fans can feel aggrieved, but if Drogba had put away a few of his stellar chances there would be no need for any of this jibber-jabber.
Rumours are strong that Roman Abramovich is wooing Pep Guardiola to London. Do you see him taking over Chelsea some day?
Denise: I’ve always thought it’s disrespectful to speculate about future managers when you already have one. Roberto Di Matteo is our manager right now and I’m more than happy with the job he’s doing. Who is to say he shouldn’t continue to do well next season and potentially beyond?
Enrique: No I don’t. It’s a known fact in Barça circles that Pep was very hurt in the manner that the top management of Barcelona under Núñez and then Gaspart meddled with the squad and eventually forced him to leave the club. Seeing an owner like Abramovich who quite clearly interferes and has absolute power will deter him. Plus the fact there is no belief and patience with the youth system. It seems Pep won’t be around forever, but I still like to hope he does, however Chelsea is not where I see him, at least not in the near future.
If you could have one Barça/Chelsea player at Stamford Bridge/Camp Nou (other than Messi!) who would it be and why?
Denise: Not your average answer maybe but on balance, Fabregas. A lot of the first XI wouldn’t do much to bring our squad age down. Fabregas would have more left in his tank, he’s proven in the Premier League and he’s a quality player.
Enrique: If I was Zubizaretta and Guardiola I would not buy any Chelsea players. However to answer the question, Mata. He is most suited to our game, being technical and very versatile, and would be a blaugrana success.
Stay tuned for Part II of The Crossfire in which Denise and Enrique discuss the teams and its key players and offer their predictions for the game.