BARCELONA, Spain, April 23 – Chelsea are bracing for a Barcelona onslaught here Tuesday as the wounded Catalans bid to recover from domestic disappointment by reaching their third Champions League final in four seasons.
The holders — stunned 1-0 by Chelsea in last week’s semi-final first leg — completed a week to forget on Saturday when a 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid at Camp Nou effectively handed the domestic title to their bitter rivals.
Chelsea will hope to exploit any lingering hangover from Saturday’s traumatic reverse to Real as they attempt to avenge their agonising elimination to Barca at the same stage three years ago.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola refused to hit the panic button after his side’s loss to Real, expressing confidence that his players would be able to raise themselves again for the visit of Chelsea.
“We’ll see on Tuesday if these two defeats have affected us, we have to rest now and then pick oursleves up and see if we can find a way to beat such a physical side as Chelsea,” Guardiola said.
Guardiola acknowledged however that Chelsea, who rested eight members of the side which started the first leg in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Arsenal, were likely to be the fresher of the two teams.
“They have managed to rest some players and we have not, but as I say we’ll get some rest and start again,” Guardiola said.
“I have not been disappointed with our play in these two defeats and we’ll forget them now and prepare well for Tuesday.”
Chelsea, too, are unlikely to lose sight of the fact that they were comprehensively outplayed for much of the first leg.
Barcelona enjoyed 70 percent possession, hit the woodwork twice and carved out three other scoring chances that they would normally have expected to convert with ease.
Chelsea’s lone shot on target proved to be Didier Drogba’s first-half winner, scored on the counter-attack after a mistake by Lionel Messi.
Interim Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo is under no illusions about the scale of the task in front of his side.
“It’s going to be a high-intensity game, mentally as well, with pressure,” Di Matteo said. “Every player that’s going to go on the pitch is at risk.”
Yet Di Matteo is hopeful that the drive of Chelsea’s senior citizens — John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech and Drogba were all outstanding in the first leg — augurs well for Tuesday.
“The personal ambition of these players comes through in these games,” Di Matteo said. “You can see the drive and also quality that these players have.
“They want to show it and I think there is a good group of players here that have shown it in the past and are now continuing to show their great strength.”
Another standout performer in the first leg was Gary Cahill, who is finally starting to show the sort of form which persuaded the club to sign him from Bolton in January for around £7 million.
Cahill and Terry have conceded just one goal in the five games the two have started together in central defence, with another clean sheet coming against Arsenal at the Emirates on Saturday.
Cahill is delighted with his form but expects he will need to raise his game to another level to withstand Barcelona’s relentless pressure on Tuesday.
“I think we require similar to the home leg: a little element of luck, defensively as a whole unit everyone sticking to their task and the concentration level,” Cahill said.
“The other night, I think physically I’ve run more in games, but the concentration level had to be unbelievably high and that’s what all the lads did. So we need that again,” said Cahill, who has never played in the Camp Nou.
“Obviously, I haven’t played there yet, but the lads tell me that the pitch is massive,” he said.
“It’s tough because there’ll be a lot of space there and fantastic players filling it. We know how tough it’s going to be but we go there to give it our all and with a good start.”