Match Preview: Chelsea vs Barcelona

Chelsea v Barcelona, Champions League semi-final second-leg, April 6, 2009

Forget about Barcelona’s stunning 6-2 victory at Real Madrid, the Champions League is a totally different animal.

While Pep Guardiola’s side have been receiving all the accolades back home for their devastating annihilation of Los Blancos last Saturday night, Guus Hiddink proved just a week ago that despite Barca’s plentiful array of attacking talent they can still be frustrated by a well-oiled Chelsea defensive XI.

From a Chelsea perspective, very little has changed since the first leg. The Blues will know that they must deny their Spanish opponents time and space (8/11 on their being under 2.5 goals), ensuring the Catalans cannot play their expansive game with Messi, Eto’o and Henry (if fit) running riot up top. Provided Chelsea stick to their defensive guns Barcelona will surely struggle again to score, while at the other end the Blues will be encouraged that they can, looking to Didier Drogba to again plough a lone furrow in the Chelsea attack.

There are several good reasons for Chelsea to be encouraged before the match.

Having watched El Classico, one startling point was that the two goals the Catalans’ conceded flagged up a chink in their defensive armour. Both goals, both headers, suggested that Barca are fallible towards the high ball and crosses. Expect to see the Blues look to exploit this weakness, with John Terry (7/1 to score), Alex (8/1) and Michael Ballack (5/1) all strong contenders to score from a set-play.

Barca’s defensive frailties are further heightened by recent bad luck to their rearguard. Centre-backs Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito are both missing because of knee injuries, while Carles Puyol will be absent through suspension. This means that young Uruguayan defender Martin Caceres is likely to get the nod, being a huge test for the relatively untested 22-year-old.

With that in mind, it is understandable why the bookies are offering tasty 7/4 odds on Barcelona keeping a clean sheet on the night.

101gg predicts: Chelsea 1 – Barcelona 0 (7/1) & Alex scoring the first goal (12/1).

Full match odds here.