Chelsea Club Focus - A week to define Blues season
There is a sense of euphoria surrounding Stamford Bridge as the delight of reaching the FA Cup semi-final begins to sink in, but for the Chelsea players they have no time to indulge in celebration. Barcelona are waiting to spoil the Blue party and they are just around the corner.
Chelsea players will be waking up today, looking at the next three games, knowing that it is season defining. It is the difference between reaching the Champions League final or falling short again like they have done four of the last five times they have reached the semi-final. It is the difference between putting themselves in real contention for Champions League qualification via the Premier League or perhaps having to settle for Europa League football next season.
There is however, an air of defeatism surrounding the Barcelona tie from fans, as displayed on Chelsea forum’s - for the most part they can’t see a way of stopping Pep Guardiola’s men. One of many mixed views coming out of Chelsea’s ‘Shed End’ forum states;
“Hope is so cruel. Therefore I'm ready to be pleasantly surprised, but murmur to myself It's only football, it's only football. It's yet to kick in.”
But there should be cause for optimism. Chelsea have been rejuvenated since Roberto Di Matteo took over as interim manager - the Blues have only lost one game in their last 12 and are unbeaten at home in the Champions League this season.
But despite Chelsea’s semi-final record, their difficulty reaching the final is not something to be so proud of, and Barcelona really have been a hurdle that the West Londoners have just not been able to jump.
The two giants have met four times in the knockout stage in Europe’s elite competition with the Spanish side prevailing on three of those occasions. The latest of these being the highly controversial meeting in the 08/09 season where Andres Iniesta’s last gasp strike at the Bridge put Barca through on away goals.
The key for Chelsea is the first leg at home. In the five matches these two have face off at the Bridge, the Blues have won on three occasions, drawing once and losing once. Not many teams can say they have a home win record of 60% against Barca in Europe.
And sandwiched in the middle of this showpiece semi-final is the not so small matter of a trip to the Emirates to face London rivals Arsenal. The Blues will be out for revenge after the North Londoner’s ran away 5-3 winners at the Bridge when these two last met. Under Di Matteo Chelsea are a different prospect and you get the sense that if they want Champions League qualification via the Premier League then this is nothing short of must win.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Arsenal v Chelsea