Club Focus – Chelsea – Premier League heavyweights ready for Champions League battle as Chelsea and United collide again

Chelsea welcome Manchester United to Stamford Bridge tonight with both sides looking to strike an early blow and take an advantage in their Champions League quarter-final first leg. The colossal tie pitches not only the winners of the last six Premier League campaigns against one another, but also the finalists of the 2008 Champions League – United triumphing 6-5 on penalties in a match no fan of either club will ever forget.

For the Blues it is their seventh visit to the quarter-finals of the competition that has long eluded them and over the years some of these matches have gone down as amongst the greatest in Chelsea history. Their first Champions League campaign came to an end in the last eight back in 2000 and is to this date their only defeat at this stage as they lost out to Barcelona. Stamford Bridge was rocking in the first leg as the hosts blew their illustrious opponents away with three goals in eight first-half minutes, Blues legend Gianfranco Zola’s wonderful free-kick and Tore Andre Flo’s brace delighting home fans on a memorable night in West London as they triumphed 3-1 over the mighty Catalans. As Chelsea followers have become accustomed to over recent seasons, their team’s exit was a heart-breaking one, as they came within minutes of knocking the Spaniards out at the Nou Camp. Cruelly, Dani’s 83rd minute goal sent the game into extra-time, in which 10-man Chelsea faltered as the hosts progressed 5-1.

Victory over Arsenal in the 2003-04 Champions League quarter-finals had Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea and fans of the pre-Roman Abramovich era harbouring dreams of lifting the famous trophy after a thrilling 2-1 away win at Highbury, Wayne Bridge cementing his place in Blues history with an 87th minute strike to eliminate the Gunners in the midst of their unbeaten Premier League winning season.

Chelsea’s last visit to the quarter-finals came two years ago as they prevailed from another ‘Battle of Britain’, on this occasion progressing after an outstanding two-legged tie with Liverpool. Having eliminated their Merseyside rivals in the previous season’s semi-finals, the Blues repeated the trick with a 7-5 aggregate win over their northern foes. A 3-1 win at Anfield seemingly put the tie beyond doubt going into the second leg in London, but the outlook was bleak at half-time as Liverpool led 2-0 to the widespread horror of Blues fans in the ground. However, in an incredible second-half, the watching world was treated to an avalanche of goals as the Blues hit back to lead 3-2, before a quick-fire Liverpool double left Rafael Benitez’s men needing just one more goal to go through on away goals. Frank Lampard’s late equaliser left Chelsea fans delirious to end an incredible twisting encounter at 4-4 and set up an equally unforgettable semi-final with Barcelona, though memorable for altogether different reasons.

As nerve-jangling and intense as they are sure to be, if the two quarter-finals between these great English clubs come in any way close to matching these bygone classic encounters, they too will be remembered rightly for many years to come.

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