Chelsea v Barcelona preview
Chelsea face perhaps the most daunting task in football as they prepare to meet Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.
Last Updated: 18/04/12 1:05pm
Rejuvenated under Roberto Di Matteo and dreaming of a triple celebration at the end of the season, Chelsea now face perhaps the most daunting challenge in football as they prepare to welcome Barcelona to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final.
Chelsea have consistently challenged for European glory over the past decade but the main prize has proved elusive and one of their most painful memories came three years ago when they were knocked out by Barca on away goals after a last-four tie that ended in ugly scenes as Didier Drogba vented his fury at the performance of referee Tom Henning Ovrebo.
Barcelona went on to beat Manchester United in the final and repeated the feat at Wembley last season to cement their standing as the dominant force in Europe.
This is the first time the Blues have made it through to the semis since 2009 and they will be determined to show over the next week that they are not in decline and can still compete with the continent's finest.
It has already been a rollercoaster ride just to reach this stage, having been made to work hard to get out of the group phase and then come back from the brink of defeat against Napoli in the round of 16.
Victory over Benfica in the quarter-finals turned out to be more routine as Chelsea continued to build momentum under interim manager Di Matteo.
The Italian has made a huge impression with the turnaround he has masterminded since taking over from Andre Villas-Boas, having secured nine wins in his 12 matches at the helm.
As well as moving back into contention for a top-four finish in the Premier League, the Blues on Sunday booked their place in the final of the FA Cup by thrashing London rivals Tottenham 5-1.
While the Wembley triumph provides an ideal lift ahead of another massive clash, the midweek meeting with Barca is undoubtedly the sternest test to date of Di Matteo's credentials as speculation continues over whether he could be offered the permanent position.
Di Matteo has demanded two 'perfect' games from his players against Barcelona and Frank Lampard insists Chelsea are not scared of the reigning European champions as they relish the tag of underdogs.
Lampard is one of the senior men to have been given a fresh lease of life by Di Matteo's arrival and is expected to line up in midfield alongside John Obi Mikel and Ramires.
David Luiz will miss both legs of the tie after failing to recover as quickly as Chelsea had hoped from a hamstring problem, but Branislav Ivanovic is available during his domestic three-match suspension.
At the other end of the pitch, Drogba will be hoping to start after his fine performance against Tottenham.
Chelsea have shown in the past that they can do what many other teams are not capable of and cause problems for Barca, with the teams having become familiar foes in the Champions League over the years.
Barcelona will feel they are a better side now than the last time they faced the Blues, with Lionel Messi going from strength to strength and enhancing his reputation as one of the greatest players in history.
The Argentine superstar has been in irresistible form all season and has netted a remarkable 14 goals in the Champions League this term, but in six previous games against Chelsea he has never scored.
Even if that record is extended to a seventh game at Stamford Bridge, Barca still possess a frightening attacking arsenal and will be confident that someone can grab an away goal to take back to Camp Nou for next Tuesday's second leg.
Barca have not had to rely on their home form to reach the semi-finals, though, having cruised through the group stage and then blown away Bayer Leverkusen before battling past AC Milan in the last eight.
Pep Guardiola, who has dismissed reports linking him with the Chelsea manager's job as 'fantasy', is now within sight of leading Barcelona to become the first club to defend the Champions League trophy.
Guardiola says he is aware of the threat Chelsea will pose and will be without a couple of key players as Seydou Keita (thigh) has not travelled and David Villa (broken leg) is still sidelined.
Andreu Fontas is also out for the season with a knee injury but Ibrahim Afellay has recovered from knee ligament damage and Dani Alves is back from a thigh problem.
Gerard Pique has also overcome a thigh injury and is set to take up his place in defence alongside Carles Puyol and the versatile Javier Mascherano.