Barcelona v Chelsea preview
Guus Hiddink's Midas touch as Chelsea manager will be given its most stringent examination when the club meet European giants Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final on Tuesday night. Barca, a side for the viewing purist, promise much at the Camp Nou with the Primera Division leaders demonstrating panache aplenty under the guidance of Pep Guardiola - who took over from Frank Rijkaard last year - having already made the lightest of work of Bayern Munich in the last round. Chelsea, though, will feel their brawn, combined with former Valencia, Real Madrid and Real Betis coach Hiddink's tactical nous, will be enough to invert the bookmakers' odds that currently see Barca favourites and the Blues outsiders to taste glory in Rome. The omens are not inspiring for the Spanish outfit, who have been knocked out of Europe's elite competition by English opposition in the last two terms; Manchester United last campaign and by Liverpool, losers against Chelsea in April's thrilling quarter-final tie, the previous year. DeftFurthermore, Chelsea are unbeaten in their previous seven Champions League matches versus Spanish opposition, and the Catalans have managed just one triumph in their last five games against the West Londoners in Europe. However, Guardiola's calm demeanour at press conferences in the lead up to the midweek encounter is likely to be linked with the abundance of talent at his disposal. With all of his key players fit and available, the 38-year-old coach's squad oozes quality. Both commanding defender Rafael Marquez and holding midfielder Yaya Toure are likely to return having been rested in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Valencia, while the intimidating three-pronged attack of Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry are ready to dazzle. Messi markingCentral midfielder Xavi should also not be overlooked for the dictatorial role he plays; the 29-year-old Spaniard has assisted six goals in the Champions League so far this season - more than any other player. For Chelsea, playmaker Deco misses out against his former club while centre-back Ricardo Carvalho is also unavailable with hamstring trouble, meaning Brazil international Alex is set to partner captain John Terry in the heart of defence. Hiddink will compensate for Ashley Cole's absence through suspension by moving Jose Bosingwa into the left-back slot as he bids to quell the twinkle toes of diminutive star Messi, while Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira remain long-term injury victims.
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