Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chelsea prepare to meet their nemesis, but Brits looking good...

Tonight's clash at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and the Champions League holders Barcelona should be very interesting for a number of reasons. IT goes without saying that the blues could have done without losing their first and second choice keepers for their biggest game of the season so far. No matter, Chelsea will have to get on with it and hope that third choice keeper Hilario doesn't give tomorrow's headline writers the opportunity of an open goal with a poor or error ridden performance.

You can understand Jose Mourinho being a tad upset about the situation, it would have been bad enough having to face Barca at full strength, because so far in the clashes between these two sides, in boxing parlance Chelsea have yet to lay a glove on Barca.

Up and until this season Chelsea's squad have looked pretty much invincible apart from in the FA cup and especially in Europe where Liverpool have managed to knock them out and last season it was Barcelona who did the damage.

Following the defeat by Barcelona there was undoubtedly a period of reflection and introspection at the West London club. The feeling was that perhaps Chelsea needed to add yet more quality to the squad, step forward Roman Abramovich - the man who has made it all possible and enter Michael Ballack and Andrei Shevchenko. So what impact have the two big name arrivals had so far and have Chelsea's chances of beating Barca this season improved?

So far this season it's fair to say Sheva hasn't quite been the real deal, but he will deliver and you'd back him in any big game to take his chances, the same can be said of Ballack really.

As for Chelsea's overall team play, this season they've relied on Drogba up front, a player that I rate very highly. Drogba hasn't exactly been written off by the British tabloid journalists (I'm being polite today) but much has been made or Chelsea 'needing a top striker'.. since the arrival of Sheva and Drogba's brilliant form, we haven't heard that line. The revisionist views on the Ivory Coast striker will no doubt be trotted out as the season goes on, as ever 'there's none so blind as those who cannot see'.

Chelsea have some class players of that there's no doubt, and Joe Cole is in my opinion is the most improved player within the British Isles. The blues really missed Cole early doors this season when he was injured, he's back now and could make a big difference when fully fit. One player who is out and missing for Barcelona is Samuel Eto'o, the Catalan club will badly miss him and it will even things up as Barca will have to rely even more on the brilliance of Ronaldinho and Messi.

All in all Chelsea haven't quite found their rhythm yet and I seriously doubt they'd have wanted to meet Barca at this stage of the Champions League - the two results will be very important in the minds of the both sets of players and managers. If Chelsea lose both legs it could have an adverse affect on their whole season. Win both and it could well work the other way around. Both will qualify for the knockout stages come what may, but whoever comes out on top over both legs matters psychologically, as Fergie would say, 'there's no doubt about that'...

Instead of the usual psychological pre-match mind games with his opposite number at Barca, Jose has spent the whole week talking about events at Reading. While I can understand him being upset, you do wonder if he didn't want to talk too much about last season and Barcelona, because in a bizarre and unfortunate way the spotlight has been off purely footballing matters with concerns over Cech and Cudicini.

As far as other British interests go in the CL go. Liverpool take on Bordeaux and are well capable of grinding out a result. Arsenal lost last night but will qualify as will Celtic and United. Looking good.

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