Three of the remaining four teams left in the UEFA Champions League hail from the English Premier League. One finals spot is guaranteed to be filled by an English team, as Arsenal take on the holders, Manchester United.
Chelsea v. Barcelona is the tie that will decide if an all-English final repeats itself this time around. Although most people on the streets believe that Barcelona will dump Chelsea in the semifinals en route to the final, my opinion is that Chelsea are the stronger team, and will progress. Here's why:
A no-contest here. Let's just put it this way. Petr Cech is a world-class goalkeeper who was going through a crisis of confidence. One fantastic penalty save from Mark Noble at the weekend would have done wonders for his confidence, and that is bad news for Barcelona.
Victor Valdes. He has to be the worst goalkeeper playing for a top five side in Europe, ever. He is unreliable, not particularly agile, and his distribution isn't exactly great either. He actually had the cheek to ask for his wages to be similar to that of the other superstars in Barcelona. If I were Guardiola, I'd insist Victor Valdes be put on a pay-as-you-play deal, and I mean Valdes has to pay Barcelona to play, not the other way round. That, is how low I rate him.
Barcelona's defence is far from water-tight. Their best defender, Carles Puyol is an overrated player who runs around like a headless chicken. Daniel Alves has fantastic ability with the ball, but is not the best defensively. Eric Abidal is average at best. I think Kalou and Malouda will relish the space offered to them by the full-backs, who will undoubtedly push up in support of the attack. Also, Didier Drogba is in good form, and I do not see how Barcelona's centre-backs can handle him.
Chelsea's defence, on the other hand, is made of sterner stuff. Do not be fooled by the 4-4 draw with Liverpool. That was a game against a team that had no choice but to attack from the off. The absence of Ashley Cole is over-emphasised, I feel. With Messi on the right wing, a right-footed defender is better in one-on-ones with Messi, as the brilliant Argentine has a fondness for cutting in repeatedly. The problem with Chelsea's defence is that John Terry and Alex are not the quickest on earth, something that Eto'o and Henry will look to profit from.
Xavi is a fantastic midfield playmaker, and I think he is one of, if not the best in that position currently. He is joined by Iniesta and Toure/Keita, which is a very good midfield. Toure/Keita are not brilliant, but they just provide the extra body back in defence, and when dealing with counter-attacks.
Chelsea have a brilliant answer to that in midfield though, and it is ME. No, not myself, but Michael Essien. Essien was brilliant in nullifying Gerrard in the previous round, and he will look to repeat his performance against Xavi.
Essien is joined by Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack in midfield. Lampard will be pulling the strings from midfield, and I think he will have an easy time against Yaya Toure, who really isn't that good.
Michael Ballack clearly does not bring his German international form to Chelsea, but he will be useful in the set-pieces, as Chelsea will look to profit from those, considering Barcelona do not really have an aerial presence, and Chelsea have it in abundance.
Messi, Eto'o, Henry. The trio are magical when on song, and I don't mean Rigobert Song. Everyone's magical when playing against Rigobert Song. Back to the topic though, Chelsea might have a problem dealing with the pace of the three musketeers, and their chances lie in stopping the supply from midfield, further highlighting what a key role Essien will play in this game.
Didier Drogba. Frankly, there is no way to stop him. Even if Barcelona cut off the supply on the ground, there is no way they can stop a long ball punted towards him, and there is even less they can do to prevent Chelsea taking advantage of set pieces. Besides, they do have ex-Real Madrid man Nicolas Anelka to bring on, should they require more firepower.
Guus Hiddink. He has a good record in knock-out competitions, and is very good with tactics. The 3-1 win at Anfield was a superb achievement, for which he must take some credit.
Pep Guardiola is inexperienced, and with him, you get the feeling that the team is making his job easier. He hasn't actually made any radical tactical changes to the side he inherited, and it is yet to be seen if he can respond in-game to different situations.
To sum this up, I think Chelsea's hopes lie with Michael Essien, Frank Lampard, and Michael Ballack winning the midfield battle. Barcelona are not capable of playing direct football, as their forward line is not equipped to do that, so stopping Xavi and Iniesta will be the way to go for Chelsea. I think this is exactly what will happen over two legs, and Chelsea will progress. If you fancy a flutter on this, bet 365 is offering juicy odds of 2.30 for Chelsea to progress. Take it.