'We're looking to score as many as possible'

Barcelona coach baulks at idea of restraint as he adheres to club tradition
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The Independent Football

The Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola was last night doing his best to play down the "Beauty against the Beast" tag being applied to tonight's Champions League semi-final, first leg match against Chelsea.

Asked if the match was a case of power meeting poise, Guardiola said: "I don't agree that the two styles are that different. Chelsea have great quality in midfield, they have players who can really play, they have Frank Lampard, Deco, Michael Ballack and they have Didier Drogba up top. They are strong but they can also be very creative."

He added: "We have played against similar teams before and we know they have players who can make 30-metre runs. We know they have people who can come from deep and arrive in the box very fast but we just have to deal with it."

Guardiola has already said that the next eight days will be the time that decides Barcelona's season with the two games against Chelsea sandwiching the weekend's Classico in Madrid. A time for caution maybe in the hope of stopping Chelsea scoring an away goal tonight and Madrid taking all three points on Saturday? No chance.

Torn between going all out for the first-leg lead and playing with restraint, the Barcelona coach promised no change in the style that has broken goalscoring records in Spain this season.

"We will set out the same way as always. We only know how to play one way and that is to attack. We need to be strong and aggressive against them. Barça are obliged by tradition to play an attractive game," Guardiola said. "We will look to not concede any goals. We know that is important but we will also be looking to score as many as possible. The whole world will be watching. I know my team and I believe in my team.

"I have been very impressed with the Chelsea games that I have seen. And we know that if we try to wait to decide the tie in the second leg it will not work, we have to make the difference in the first leg."

The midfielder Xavi was bolder than his coach suggesting that La Liga was stronger than the Premier League despite the presence of three English teams in the last four. "I think La Liga is better than the Premier," he said. "In technical and tactical terms it is superior. To win the Premier you need a lot of intensity physically but I think our league is stronger.

"This result will not show which league is better. We are not in the semis because of luck. We've beaten Bayern Munich and Lyon – we have passed many tests to get here."

Barcelona fell at the semi-final stage last season, against Manchester United, but Xavi believes the team is much stronger under Guardiola.

He said: "We are stronger this season because we are working harder and applying pressing higher up the pitch. The defensive intensity and the tempo of the play is much higher and much more consistent. Everything has changed."

Echoing Guardiola he suggested that Barcelona would be unable to play a more defensive game even if they wanted to. "History says we are a winning team. We go everywhere to win, from minute one, and even more with this coach. He demands we always play to win from the start."

Guardiola will choose between Eric Abidal and Gerard Pique ahead of tonight's game. If Pique plays then Carles Puyol will be positioned at left-back. If Abidal plays then he will play at left-back with Rafael Marquez partnering Puyol in the centre. Xavi will line up alongside Yaya Touré and Andres Iniesta in midfield with Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi up-front.

Xavi backed Messi, who is the Champions League's leading goalscorer, to separate the sides. " It's just fantastic to have him with us," he said. "For me he is the best in the world."

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