There are few moments in life which foment the questioning of the limitations of time and space. Watching a rocket lift into the atmosphere seems to defy these invisible laws to which we are all bound, but is readily explained through science. Other moments, no matter how many times they are visited and revisited remain steeped in a cloak of incredulity. Focused like so many others on the movements of the ball which would decide our collective fate, few registered the slightly balding figure lurking unmarked at the edge of the box. By the time our minds were able to register what was about to happen, it already had.
Rare are the men and women intrinsically linked with a single action, an individual so bound to a defining event that they become almost a single thought. It will be hard not to revisit these memories when the images of Stamford Bridge are cast onto our screens, but we must resist doing so. Man must be allowed to continue to create a history, or surely history itself would end completely. Perfection, after all, can only come from creation.
Barcelona travel to London to face Chelsea this Wednesday evening in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final matchup on the same hallowed ground which played host to what has become a defining moment for both clubs. Not much more can be said on the matter.
But, faithful readers, for your sake it shall. Where does one begin? The routes both teams have taken to reach this point seem suddenly immaterial. What does matter is the form both teams have exhibited over the past few weeks, and all in all things seem to bode well for the traveling Catalans. While Chelsea find themselves in the midst of a miraculous recovery from the AVB experiment of such fame earlier this season, it must be said that several of their recent victories have come courtesy of a few generous refereeing decisions. Although, after Saturday’s match at Levante, this may be an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. No matter.
At this point in the Champions League season coaches are forced to consider things which they would rather not. Both Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano find themselves one yellow card away from a mandatory one match suspension which would see them miss out on the second leg of the encounter, something which no-doubt gives pause to Guardiola’s defensive plans. What then of the back line?
I think we will see Puyol and Piqué sandwiched between Dani Alves and Adriano in front of the ever-present Victor Valdés Wednesday evening. Even with a depleted group of defenders and an impending El Clásico just three days after the match in London, it is hard to imagine that Pep will leave his long haired captain on the bench for such an important match. The idea of the cumbersome Busquets attempting to shore up the center of defense is more than I care to stomach.
In the midfield I expect to see Xavi alongside Fàbregas, with Busquets lying deep behind the two. Cesc has not featured a great deal over the last few weeks, and should be primed to face a side that he is all-too familiar with from his Arsenal days. As for the attack? Messi, Alexis Sánchez, and the Don himself. He who hath inscribed his name upon the Bridge in such devastating fashion will no-doubt have a say on Wednesday evening if given the chance.
FC Barcelona Lineup (Predicted): Valdés, Dani Alves, Puyol, Piqué, Adriano, Busquets, Xavi, Fàbregas, Iniesta, Messi, Alexis Sánchez
Chelsea find themselves with a similar glut of defensive injuries as they approach Wednesday evening. David Luiz is the latest casualty in the Londoners’ ranks, having sustained a hamstring injury in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Tottenham, and is unlikely to play a part in the proceedings. Gary Cahill’s availability is unconfirmed at the time of writing, another apparent victim of Tottenham’s determined play in the dying minutes at Wembley on Sunday. Who, then, does this leave in defense?
In front of Petr Cech I would not be surprised to see Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic and Jose Bosingwa, assuming neither David Luiz or Gary Cahill pass a late fitness test. The remaining six spots offer an interesting set of possibilities to caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo, who must decide which players from a rotating cast of strikers and midfielders will get the nod on Wednesday evening. In a squad that has been lambasted for showing its age this season, I expect the Italian to choose experience over speed, at least in the opening stages of the match. Much has been made of Barcelona’s style of play these past few seasons, and the general consensus has been that constant running in the first half of a match is the only way to deny the Catalans the time and space they thrive in. I don’t think Di Matteo will fall for this trick. It has been made clear that teams quickly tire in the second half against a patient Catalan side willing to pass back and forth like a metronome, and I believe that the Chelsea coach will save his fastest players for substitutions late in the proceedings.
Frank Lampard should start in midfield flanked by Raul Meireles and Ramires, with Juan Mata, Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou floating around in front of these three. The devastating pace of Fernando Torres will be extremely useful in the latter stages of this match, as previously discussed, and I would not be surprised to see him wearing his best blank stare on the bench at the opening whistle.
Chelsea FC Lineup (Predicted): Peter Cech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Jose Bosingwa, Frank Lampard, Raul Meireles, Ramires, Juan Mata, Salomon Kalou, Dider Drogba
There are some matches for which a prediction is merely a shot in the dark, and this is one of them. Barcelona enter the match with the tide of past accomplishment rushing out before them, boasting the services of arguably the best player in the history of the game, and motivated by recent memories. Chelsea also find themselves motivated by these same memories, albeit in quite a different light, and will play on Wednesday with more than a few ghosts to excise from the last encounter between these two sides. As was proven on Sunday with a magnificent strike created from almost nothing, calls suggesting that ageing players like Didier Drogba have passed their prime are largely unfounded. With richer, warmer pastures no doubt beckoning to a host of Chelsea players now in the twilight of their careers, this may well represent the last chance to win the one cup that has so long eluded them.
An honest man once said “the difference between a pessimist and an optimist is that the pessimist is better informed”. On this occasion my optimism is bolstered by all that I have seen and know.
Chelsea 0-2 FC Barcelona