18th April, 2012
Chelsea and defending champions of the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona of Spain will tonight tango in the first leg semi final of the UEFA Champions League at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea believe they can stymie the jaw-dropping goalscoring exploits of Lionel Messi and pull off an unlikely upset against their visitors.
Messi took his season’s tally to an astonishing 63 goals in 52 games at the weekend with a double strike in Barcelona’s win over Levante, leaving him just four shy of Gerd Muller’s all-time single-season European record of 67.
Another goal at Stamford Bridge would see the Argentinian set a new benchmark for goals in a single Champions League campaign, taking him past the record he currently shares with Jose Altafini, who scored 14 for AC Milan in 1962-63.
Referring to Messi’s ongoing scoring duel with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said recently that the two players were “eating at a separate table to the rest.”
The challenge for Chelsea on Wednesday is finding a way to prevent Messi from treating the English club’s ageing back four as an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Yet Chelsea’s elder statesmen — almost certainly featuring together in a Champions League campaign for the last time — are refusing to be cowed by Messi and Barcelona’s reputation as one of the best teams of all time.
“From the start of every game, it’s 50-50,” Chelsea veteran Frank Lampard said. “We are in the Champions League semi-final on merit. We can’t show too much fear against them. We have to respect them but also take them on and play the way we play.
“When I watch Barcelona I expect them to win but you have to believe in yourselves. We have given them tough games in the past and we are ready to try to do that again.”
Nevertheless Lampard is under no illusions about the scale of the task in front of Chelsea, who come into the game with useful momentum following the 5-1 FA Cup semi-final thrashing of Tottenham at Wembley.
Lampard believes Messi has already surpassed Diego Maradona in the pantheon of all-time greats.