Blues have chance for revenge, but odds are stacked against jaded team


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The Independent Online

Chelsea have their chance for revenge on Barcelona. Three years ago they met in the semi-final, and Chelsea felt aggrieved to go out. But while Chelsea's progress to the last four was, until the last six minutes last night, comfortable, it will not, one imagines, deprive Pep Guardiola of too much sleep. Much, much more will be needed in the semis.

With Chelsea taking a 1-0 lead into last night's game, scoring another goal after 21 minutes and gaining a one-man advantage soon after, there was, until a nervous final six minutes, not too much doubt that they, rather than Benfica, would be hosting the European champions on 18 April and visiting the Nou Camp six days later.

That is not to downplay the achievement. In reaching the Champions League's final four, Chelsea have gone two stages further than any other English team. They have also done it despite a difficult season: in fifth place, they are facing their worst Premier League finish under Roman Abramovich.

But that is the precisely the problem. This, by any reasonable standard, is the worst Chelsea team in years. While they are clearly less strong, less fit, less sharp and less competitive than they were in April 2009, Barcelona have moved in the opposite direction. And the difficulties Chelsea will have against Barcelona were certainly presaged last night. Against a good Benfica side, but not one from the top category of European teams, they were made to look decidedly backward.

To envision how Barcelona would fare against this Chelsea midfield is to envision a meeting between teams from different evolutionary eras.

Of course, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Chelsea could hope to squeeze out a lead in their first leg here, before digging in at the Nou Camp. That is exactly what Jose Mourinho's Internazionale did two years' ago, the last time Barcelona lost a semi-final.

But that was one of the great defensive performances of the modern era, and it was not obvious last night that Chelsea could replicate it.