BARCELONA, Apr 27 – Treble chasing Barcelona face their biggest challenge yet when they face Guus Hiddink's rejuvenated Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final first leg here on Tuesday.
Pep Guardiola’s players sent out a warning with the way they tore apart Bayern Munich in their first leg match in the last round with Lionel Messi leading the charge but ably assisted by Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o in the three-pronged attack.
They now face a far tougher challenge from an in-form Chelsea side who may realistically be out of their domestic championship race, but beat Arsenal to reach the FA Cup final and are in the Champions League semi-final thanks to two spectacular games against Liverpool.
The biggest threat is set to come from Chelsea’s physical strength, and Barcelona are especially wary of the danger they pose from set-plays.
Chelsea’s Ivory Coast striker Salomon Kalou believes Tuesday represents a tough assignment, but could be a classic encounter.
"These are the types of games everyone wants to play in. It’s going to be really hard but we have the team to beat anyone," said Kalou, who is desperate to reach a second successive final after losing to Manchester United on penalties last year.
"We could even play United again. They are always there and we are too, so we are always going to meet. They are playing really well and are strong, but I think Chelsea are back at the top level so it would be good to play them."
As well as the Champions League last four, Barcelona are in the Copa del Rey final and well-placed to win the league despite only managing a draw against Valencia at the weekend.
It will be a crucial two weeks for Barcelona.
In La Liga, they will play the ‘El Clasico’ against second-placed Real Madrid, who are four points off the top, in between the Chelsea games.
"We are physically and mentally prepared for Chelsea and we must make sure that they don’t score an away goal," warned Barcelona midfielder Xavi Hernandez.
"We have played Chelsea several times in the last few years and we have a lot of respect for them as they always give us a difficult game," added Xavi, who has extra incentive to reach the final in Rome after missing the victory over Arsenal in Paris three years ago.
"I enjoyed the win in Paris but as I was coming back from injury I didn’t play and it’s different if you are involved. This is something I want to put right but while so far we are having the best season in our history we have not won anything yet."
Chelsea defender Juliano Belletti scored the winning goal in Paris for Barcelona before moving a year later to Stamford Bridge and he believes that they are the two form teams in Europe.
"It is going to be a tough match and a game worthy of the final. There are other good teams like Liverpool and Manchester (United), who are the champions, but if you talk about the situation right now then Barcelona and Chelsea are both playing very well," he told www.fcbarcelona.com.
"There is no such thing as a team which is unbeatable, I have played for the Brazil team for many years, then I played for Barca but neither were unbeatable.
"A lot of people say that Barcelona are favourites because they have almost won their league but all teams that reach the semi-final are there by merit and as a footballer and from my experience there is no favourite."
Both teams go into the match having rested key players, Chelsea started with Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Michael Essien on the bench, in the 1-0 win over West Ham United on Saturday, while Barcelona gave a break to Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, starting with them as substitutes against Valencia.