UEFA Champions League: 5 Positive Signs for Chelsea Ahead of Barcelona Clash
Chelsea will face arguably their biggest challenge this season when they travel to the Camp Nou on Tuesday. However, there are a lot of positives to be drawn with respect to their results over the weekend, as well as the results of their opponents.
With that in mind, here are five positive signs for Chelsea ahead of their second leg semifinal against the Catalans.
The Blues Were Able to Keep Another Clean Sheet
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The result against Arsenal may not have exactly lifted Chelsea's hopes of finishing in the top four this season, but it did show they are capable of keeping a clean sheet away from home. The match shared a resemblance to the game Chelsea played at Stamford Bridge against Barcelona, as John Terry's side were usually on the defensive.
It was almost like Roberto Di Matteo was trying to keep his players in the same frame of mind before their trip to the Camp Nou.
But the positive to be drawn here is that Chelsea will have some belief about their chances on Tuesday. If they had lost to Arsenal it would have been a completely different scenario in terms of morale.
Real Madrid Proved the Camp Nou Is Not a Fortress
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Jose Mourinho did his former club a huge favor on Saturday as his Madrid side beat Barcelona at home. The game highlighted just where Barcelona are vulnerable — set pieces and counter-attacks. Both these factors will surely be etched into the mind of Di Matteo.
Not only did the result inflict some pain on the Catalans in terms of morale, but the game also took its toll on the players physically.
Unlike Roberto Di Matteo, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola chose to play almost the same lineup that featured in the Champions League last Wednesday, which means that the influential Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi may not be at their effective best for the mid-week clash against the Blues.
Now that Barcelona have only the Champions League to focus on, chances are they will grow increasingly frustrated as the match goes on especially if they are unable to break down Chelsea's defense, which could just give the Blues an opening to exploit.
Fernando Torres Showed Promise Against Arsenal
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Roberto Di Matteo told The Guardian that Didier Drogba was struggling with a knee problem and might not be fit in time for Chelsea's semifinal clash against Barcelona. However, there shouldn't be too much worry for the Italian manager after Torres' performance on Saturday.
The Spaniard showed against Arsenal that he is just as capable of holding the ball up the pitch as Drogba is. Torres guided the ball to the corners of the pitch, circled defenders and used his strength to allow Chelsea time to get forward in attack. Although he may lack the brute strength Drogba has, Fernando is definitely one of those strikers who can cause Carles Puyol and Javier Mascherano some problems.
Add that to his willingness to press defenders and win the ball back and Torres certainly makes his case for winning a starting position against the Catalans.
Chelsea Have Always Scored First in This Season's Champions League
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The fact that Di Matteo's men have opened the scoring in each of their Champions League games this season is a big factor to consider. If Chelsea are able to continue that record on Tuesday night, the Catalans would need to score three goals to reach the final.
With Barcelona failing to score at Stamford Bridge, this tie could well come down to a single goal and if Chelsea get the all-important away goal, then even a 2-1 loss would send them through.
One thing for sure is chances will be hard to come by and Chelsea will have to show the same efficiency in front of goal that saw them win at the Bridge.
Di Matteo Has a Gameplan
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The Italian manager had been written off ever since his team were drawn against Barcelona, but Robbie has gotten all of his priorities right so far. The interim coach has assessed his side's chances in the domestic league and probably realized Chelsea's best bet was to win the Champions League in order to be certain of returning to Europe next season.
The fact that he chose to make eight changes to his side against Arsenal showed that he was not only looking to freshen up his squad, but also trying to save some of his key players for midweek.
With Chelsea now in sixth in the Premier League and having to depend on other teams dropping points for them to break into the top four, it just seems that turning attention towards winning the Champions League is the smartest thing to do. The decision is definitely risky, but win or lose Di Matteo should be merited for his bravery in prioritizing certain games over others this season — it is what has gotten him through so far.