Chelsea plan to double mark Messi the danger man

Click to follow
The Independent Football

They believe at the Nou Camp that they finally have the measure of Jose Mourinho. Frank Rijkaard appealed to the "humanity" of the Barcelona supporters not to offend the Chelsea manager by booing him tonight - what he was really asking them to do was not to fall into the trap of succumbing to the destabilising tactics of Mourinho.

There could hardly be a better adversary for the hyperactivity of Mourinho than Rijkaard whose train of thought so often appears to have diverged from the question he is being asked. He proved so benign yesterday that one member of the Spanish press simply announced his intention to give up when he tried, and failed, to frame a question to Rijkaard three different ways during the press conference.

It has become a common theme among the Barcelona players to turn the tactics of Mourinho back against the Chelsea manager. Earlier this week, Deco said that he did not even believe that Mourinho privately thought that Lionel Messi had done something fundamentally wrong in the incident that saw Asier Del Horno sent off. The Chelsea manager, his former Porto player suggested, had made his "theatre claims" purely for the effect that they would have.

So, too, the Brazilian midfielder Jose Edmilson, an impressive marauder in the centre of midfield, who simply said that his team were "calm" and have "nothing against Mourinho". He may have been demonised in the Catalan press, and abused by a handful of supporters at the airport, but the attitude of Rijkaard and his players towards the Chelsea manager appears to be that the more importance they afford him, the more dangerous he becomes.

It was Rijkaard who led the way, asking for his supporters to show "humanity" tonight. "It won't be the first time that a crowd has reacted against a team but on the other hand I am concerned because this is a fantastic moment for us and the Barcelona crowd to demonstrate that we have respect for our opponents," he said. "That we are not willing to transmit aggression."

The same team that won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge is set to start tonight with Messi facing William Gallas down the left side of Chelsea's defence. "The best way to deal with Messi if you have 11 players on the pitch is to double mark him," Mourinho said. "But we could not do that with 10 men in the last match." There is no doubting from that analysis who he regards as the most dangerous opponent tonight.

The weakness for Barcelona will, once again, be in their two full-backs, Oleguer and Giovanni van Bronkhorst, around whom Chelsea's best chances are sure to come. Mourinho threw his training session open for the full duration, not just the regular 15 minutes which suggested that he doubted anything could be kept secret at the Nou Camp - Barcelona kept their session closed down after the stretching.

When it counted last season, Rijkaard's tactics were badly wrong in the second leg. He was blitzed by three Chelsea goals in the first 12 minutes and this time the opening stages well be crucial. The Barcelona manager tried hard to wrestle the agenda back from Mourinho yesterday, but what will matter most tonight is that his preparations are enough to keep Mourinho's side at bay.

No chance at the Nou Camp? Why Chelsea are up against it

* CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Barcelona have conceded only six goals in their last 11 European home games and the last European opponents to score twice against them at the Nou Camp were Juventus, who won 2-1 in the Champions' League quarter-finals three years ago to progress on aggregate.

* FOR THE RECORD

Barcelona, who have won all four previous home games against Chelsea, are aiming for their 11th Champions' League/ European Cup quarter-final appearance in 16 attempts.

* AWAY-DAY BLUES

Chelsea must win and score at least twice, having done so only once in their last eight Champions' League away games.

* PAIN IN SPAIN

Chelsea, who are playing their 50th Champions' League/ European Cup game, have lost on their last four visits to Spain.

Lost 2-1 at Nou Camp last year.

Comments