Many of Chelsea’s current stars can still feel the emotional scars from Barca’s controversial Champions League semi-final victory over the Blues in 2009.
Chelsea, managed then by caretaker boss Guus Hiddink, felt they were denied several clear penalties before Andres Iniesta’s last-gasp strike sent Barca through to the final on away goals.
The sense of injustice prompted Chelsea striker Didier Drogba to abuse Norway referee Tom Henning Ovrebo on the pitch after the final whistle, while several other players hinted they had been cheated.
That was the last meeting between two clubs whose rivalry has been become increasingly bitter since first erupting during Jose Mourinho’s time in charge at Stamford Bridge.
Now Chelsea, 3-1 aggregate winners against Benfica in the quarter-finals, have a chance to avenge that loss by ending Barca’s reign as European champions and Blues interim boss Di Matteo says his players are determined to seize the opportunity.
“We have faced them a lot of times over the years and a lot of our players have some history against Barcelona,” Di Matteo said.
“Certainly they feel a bit hard done by from when we played against them three years ago.”
Barca have proved themselves Europe’s pre-eminent force twice in the last three seasons and they look in the mood to collect yet another title this year.
Lionel Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and company brushed aside AC Milan in their quarter-final and have plenty of motivation to reach the final again themselves as arch rivals Real Madrid could be lying in wait in Munich.
Few teams in Europe have been able to find an answer to the problems posed by Barca’s bewildering array of attacking options, but Di Matteo insists he is looking forward to the challenge.
“It will be exciting to play two games against one of the best teams in the world. We will find a strategy that will suit our team and our players to face Barcelona,” he said.
“They have some individuals that are a big threat and very dangerous, but we also have to play our game and play to our strengths.
“They have reached the final and won the trophy many times but I am looking forward to the two games. It will be exciting to play Barcelona again.”
Di Matteo deserves immense credit for getting Chelsea back on track after stepping up from his role as assistant to the sacked Andre Villas-Boas.
Some critics claimed the former Chelsea midfielder would fare just as badly as Villas-Boas because few of the players liked his supposedly aloof attitude.
Instead, his calm, understated leadership has led Chelsea to the brink of a second Champions League final appearance.
But Di Matteo will know it will need a massive improvement on Wednesday’s nervy 2-1 quarter-final second leg win over Benfica to see off Barca.
Despite taking the lead through Frank Lampard’s first half penalty and then seeing Benfica’s Maxi Pereira sent off before the break, Chelsea struggled to kill off their opponents and conceded a late goal from Javi garcia before Raul Meireles finally settled the tie in stoppage time.
“We expected a difficult game and it proved that way,” Di Matteo said. “We made it a little more difficult for ourselves by not scoring the second goal, especially in the second half with all those chances.
“The team wasn’t as sparkling as we hoped. Maybe they were a little tired in stages but we are pleased to go through and I think we deserved to go through.
Di Matteo also revealed that captain John Terry was forced off in the second half with a rib injury that will be checked on Thursday.
“He got a knock on his rib and that is why we had to take him off. We will assess him on Thursday and see how he is. We hope he is going to be ok,” Di Matteo added.
Meanwhile, Benfica’s exit left boss Jorge Jesus feeling a mixture of pride and frustration.
“We didn’t look as though we had 10 men. We made them look ordinary. Petr Cech was their best player and he made some great saves,” Jesus said.
“After coming back to 1-1 we had two good chances but got hit on the counter-attack near the end. That’s the frustrating thing about football.”