Barcelona struggling ahead of must-win Chelsea match

Still recovering from a morale-busting loss at home in the Spanish League, Barcelona will need to quickly regroup to beat Chelsea and overturn a first leg deficit in the Champions League semifinals.

Updated: April 24, 2012 11:17 IST
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Barcelona: Still recovering from a morale-busting loss at home in the Spanish League, Barcelona will need to quickly regroup to beat Chelsea and overturn a first leg deficit in the Champions League semifinals.

The defending champions in both Spain and Europe lost to Real Madrid 2-1 on Saturday and now trail their biggest rivals by seven points with four games to go. Last week, the Catalan team lost at Chelsea 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals.

Barcelona could lose three straight matches for the first time since 2003, staining a season in which it has already won the Spanish Super Cup, European Super Cup and Club World Cup. The team is also in the Copa del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao.

"It's very easy to speak about the end of a cycle but I think this team, which has won 13 titles in three years, deserves a lot of credit despite losing one game," Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said on Monday. "Others have to win the titles first before we start talking about a changing of the guard. We deserve more respect than that."

Chelsea is unbeaten in its last six meetings with Barcelona, but goalkeeper Petr Cech said the Spanish team's recent stumbles won't make it any easier.

"I don't think that them losing the 'clasico' will have a big impact," said Cech. "(Barcelona) is a great team with the experience to handle defeats. It will make them eager to forget about the 'clasico' and focus on the Champions League."

Messi was bottled up by both Chelsea and Madrid to remain scoreless in his last two outings, and when he did manage to set up his teammates, they failed to finish.

Against Madrid, the three-time world player of the year didn't even manage a shot on goal, something almost unimaginable for the club's all-time leading scorer who already has 63 goals this season.

Messi did not practice on Sunday due to a stomach ache but Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said it was nothing serious and defended his star player in the midst of a rare two-game scoring drought.

"I can never be worried about Messi, even if he goes 27 games without scoring a goal," said Guardiola. "One day he scores three goals, the next day he gives assists and creates chances. We have to give him permission not to score.

"Of course he likes to score. He feels responsible for his part in our attack. His leading role has helped us achieve all we have. It is never easy against a team that puts nine or 10 players near the area."

Guardiola's hesitance to renew his contract which expires in the offseason has only added to the growing tension surrounding the game.

But the former Barcelona midfielder said that Tuesday's outcome would "have absolutely nothing" to do with his decision whether to stay.

Chelsea will likely repeat its defensive tactics in an attempt to stop Messi. Even so, the visitors know that they will most likely need to score to go through.

"I hope that we are going to score a goal because a goal will be a big difference. We know from last time when the goal by (Andre) Iniesta made a big difference," Cech said, referring to Iniesta's stoppage-time goal that enabled Barcelona to get past Chelsea in the semifinals in 2008-09 on its way to winning the final.

While Barcelona generated more than enough chances against Chelsea to draw or even win the first leg, it was uncharacteristically sluggish and predictable against Madrid with playmakers Iniesta and Xavi not their usual sharp selves.

"To blame fatigue for defeats is an excuse for losers," said Pique, the Spain international who is looking to return to the lineup after missing the two losses. "When you talk about getting to a Champions League final the word fatigue doesn't exist. Everything is in our hands."

Guardiola can count on Cesc Fabregas and Pique to be fresh after neither played a minute against Madrid.

Pique could play a critical role by starting Barcelona's attacks with his long passing from the back.

Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo said his defensive formation gave Chelsea the best chance to come out on top.

"I think you have to utilize the strength of your players and look for the weakness of your opponent, that is tactics," Di Matteo said. "Barca will create chances against every team, so we will have to try and score a goal tomorrow night. But we also have to try and limit the chances they have against us."

Chelsea arrives in better physical form after resting most of its starters over the weekend. Striker Didier Drogba, who scored from Chelsea's only shot on goal in the first leg, is the team's only major doubt as he tries to recover from a knee injury.

"The game will be similar (to the first leg)," Guardiola said. "They will wait for us to loose the ball so they can attack on the break. Our biggest defensive goal is to be protected at these moments."

The winner will face either Bayern Munich or Madrid in the final on May 19. Madrid hosts the German side on Wednesday looking to come back from a 2-1 loss in the first leg.

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