'Middle' route takes edge off Chelsea, says Marquez

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The Independent Football

When the champions of England and Spain meet tonight for the sixth time in 20 months, Barcelona's Rafael Marquez believes his side will have the edge against a Chelsea team lacking the attacking flair of previous years. "They appear to be less dangerous going forward than last season," said the Mexico captain. "They played with [Joe] Cole and [Damien] Duff on the wings and now they play more through the middle, which is less effective."

Marquez also believes that the hosts will contain Chelsea's top scorer, Didier Drogba, if the Ivorian is declared fit to play. "We'll mark him closely and not allow him space," explained the defender. "He is a strong player with many qualities and we have to ensure that he does not receive the ball from [Michael] Ballack and [Frank] Lampard."

Barcelona are the European Cup holders but it is Chelsea who lead group A with nine points to the Catalans' four. "Barça will go into the game as we always do, treating it as the most important of the season," said the full-back Juliano Belletti. Belletti believes that the Catalans proved their recovery from consecutive defeats to Chelsea and Real Madrid with Saturday's 3-0 win over Recreativo that kept them top of La Liga: "We have never lost confidence," he said. "When Barça lose two games it is a big story, but we've remained confident."

The talented Argentine Lionel Messi has recovered from a sprained ankle, meaning the Spanish side are at full strength, apart from the injured striker Samuel Eto'o.

One player who understands Eto'o's frustration is the influential midfielder Xavi, who missed last season's Chelsea games due to a cruciate knee injury. "Any team would miss Eto'o because he's the best forward in the world," Xavi said. "He deserves the Ballon D'Or this year, not only for his goals, but because of his continual pressure, runs and defending."

The holders will look to Eidur Gudjohnsen, who has yet to score at the Nou Camp, to provide the goals against his former employers. The Icelandic forward won a penalty which allowed Ronaldinho to give Barça the lead on Saturday, but he was accused after the match of diving. "It was a disgrace," said Recreativo's club president, Francisco Mendoza. "Instead of a penalty, the referee should have given a yellow card to Gudjohnsen. He spent the whole game diving."

Ronaldinho scored another and Xavi added a third before later defending the less than spectacular form of his Brazilian team-mate. "People say he's not playing well, but he's our top goalscorer and rivals still fear him greatly," Xavi said. "He is capable of everything. When his career is finished he'll be remembered like Pele or Maradona.

"It's crucial that we qualify from this group and improve on our performance in London," Xavi added. "That game left a bad taste because it was Chelsea's aggression which gave them an advantage.

"We don't need motivating against Chelsea because they're one of the best teams in the world. I believe that if we play as we know we can, then we will beat them."