The 2011/12 UEFA Champions League semi-final second legs get under way tonight, with FC Barcelona playing host to Chelsea FC, who lead 1-0 on aggregate. As well as bringing you the latest as we build up to kick-off in Barcelona, UEFA.com's team of reporters will also have news from the press conferences ahead of Wednesday's match between Real Madrid CF and FC Bayern München.
All times CET.
Tuesday 19.15, UEFA.com newsdesk
That is it for today as we make way for the UEFA.com MatchCentre, which will bring you all the action from inside the Camp Nou.
The blog returns tomorrow morning with extensive reaction from this evening's game in Barcelona as well as all the build-up to Wednesday night's match at the Santiago Bernabéu.
Tuesday 18.40, Paul Bryan, Spanish newsdesk
Speaking at the Bayern press conference in Madrid earlier today, coach Jupp Heynckes weighed in with his thoughts on tonight's encounter between Barça and Chelsea. "I have no preference as to who wins tonight but I expect it to be Barcelona," he said. "Under their coach, Josep Guardiola, they have dominated European football recently and they are more than capable of getting to the final again. Having said that, may the best team win."
Tuesday 18.27, Ivan Dyvak, Ukrainian newsdesk
Kyiv-based daily paper Komanda feels that overcoming a 1-0 deficit on home soil is not an impossible mission for Barcelona, though the publication has the headline "Catalans hand away the Liga trophy" and is keen to discuss the club's recent woes.
"The Catalan capital has endured bleak days recently," says the paper. "Within the space of one week, their calendar has seen three very tough matches that will, to a large extent, be a measure of the season as a whole."
"Barcelona are struggling at the moment", adds the paper. "They suffered a defeat at Stamford Bridge last Wednesday before going down to Real Madrid in the Liga on Saturday. The league setback means they have virtually lost [in] their title defence. Now they face the task of defending another trophy – a European crown. The task is difficult but achievable."
Tuesday 18.11, UEFA.com London newsdesk
The Telegraph also responds to the recent talk excusing a 'tired' Barcelona team by featuring a table comparing the likely lineups tonight and the total number of appearances the players in the respective XIs have made. Interestingly, Chelsea's tally of 528 outweighs their opponents' 477. Petr Čech (55) and Juan Mata (53) lead the way in games played for the Blues, while Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano both have 54 for Barça.
Tuesday 18.00, UEFA.com London newsdesk
The Telegraph features comments from Frank Lampard on how this might be the last shot at reaching the UEFA Champions League final for several Chelsea players, as winning the trophy might be the Blues' only way of entering the competition next season.
"It is a huge opportunity and you don't know how many more you get of these in football," said the 33-year-old midfielder. "Individually and as a team we have been in semi-finals a lot of times and they are amazing occasions.
"It's a game of a lifetime and you should never underestimate playing these kind of matches," Lampard added. "They don't come around every year so you can't help getting excited about the prospect. When you get older I think you appreciate it even more."
Tuesday 17.40, Graham Hunter in Barcelona
Josep Guardiola is so detailed in his preparation he normally only tells his players who is in the starting lineup around 90 minutes before kick-off. So while most expect Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sanchez to come back into the starting XI, nobody will be quite sure until the teams are released formally.
Tuesday 17.22, Berend Scholten, Belgian Newsdesk
The Belgian Het Nieuwsblad newspaper speaks about "a historically important match" for Barcelona against Chelsea. "If Barcelona beat Chelsea, they still have a chance to restore their honour after the Madrid blow," says the publication. "If they lose this match, they will have experienced their darkest week and Guardiola's kingdom will shed serious tears for the first time."
"Barcelona are not invulnerable anymore like they were a year ago," Club Atlético de Madrid and Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois says in the paper. If they lose the title and the UEFA Champions League in the space of three days, that impression will be confirmed. Then Guardiola's kingdom is over for at least a year and the throne will be come vacant for Mourinho's Royals.
Tuesday 17.05, Graham Hunter in Barcelona
Just like the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, Barcelona's President Sandro Rosell keeps himself in first class shape. While in Milan for the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg, the Barça head honcho went for a run. Now that the sunshine has eventually returned to the skies over Barcelona, Rosell has again gone jogging today, high in the hills which overlook the Mediterranean city. His work ethic is certainly setting a good example for his players.
Tuesday 16.50, Paul Bryan from the Bayern press conference
Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes confirmed to the media his fear of Real Madrid's stellar attacking talent, as he looked ahead to a match he described as "a duel of giants".
"The first leg result is a small advantage for us," said the 66-year-old. "But Real Madrid have a huge offensive potential, and have scored almost 150 goals. We are able to score a goal at the Bernabéu, but we have also shown that we can concede goals. This match will be a treat."
Tuesday 16.34, Paul Bryan from the Bayern press conference
Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer says that he and his team-mates are looking forward to tomorrow's decider with Real Madrid: "Both teams respect each other but we have started well and are anticipating the match. Real Madrid know they need a goal and I am sure they are going to play offensively. This is a completely different match [to the opening leg].
Neuer also took the time to talk about his Madrid counterpart, goalkeeper Iker Casillas. "Raúl has spoken about how well respected Casillas is in Spain, and [Mesut] Özil and [Sami] Khedira have confirmed that to me. Casillas has won a lot having started young and he has deserved that."
Tuesday 16.23, Paul Bryan from the Bayern press conference
Bastian Schweinsteiger also pointed out to the media a connection between tomorrow's teams that many have missed. "This match is special for Mario Gomez, because his grandfather is a very proud Spaniard," he told the press. "He is wearing a big smile today. I hope he will score the winning goal, just like he did in the home match."
Tuesday 16.12, Peter Bruun in Copenhagen
Former Barcelona and Denmark player Michael Laudrup has his doubts whether his former club will be able to qualify for the UEFA Champions League final. "Barcelona today are not like Barcelona a year ago – and in order to defeat Chelsea tonight they will have to be more aggressive and play faster," Laudrup told the Danish tv station TV2.
"They are playing too slowly at the moment, and Messi suffers from that in particular, as he is now attacked by three or four defenders before he even gets anything started - simply because the combinations are slower," said Michael Laudrup, who won the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona back in 1992. "Chelsea will play deep and have only one man up front. Then it will be up to Barcelona to find their fast way of playing again, so that they can benefit from Messi," Laudrup added.
Tuesday 15.58, Graham Hunter in Barcelona
While three of Barcelona's UEFA Champions League victories have come in finals won against English teams, an uncomfortable fact remains that in recent years Chelsea (three times), Liverpool FC, Celtic FC and Manchester United FC have all arrived at the Camp Nou and either taken draws or wins away from Catalunya. The respect which coach Josep Guardiola holds for British football (he nearly signed for Wigan Athletic FC, underwent a trial at Manchester City FC and sat down with Sir Alex Ferguson to discuss a move to Manchester United) is deeply held. But his wariness for British opponents in UEFA competitions seems well founded, too.
Tuesday 15.41, Paul Bryan, from the Bayern press conference
While much has been made of the difficulties Bayern face playing Madrid in their back yard, German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger offered a bullish response in the Bayern press conference: "The atmosphere will play a big factor tomorrow at the stadium but it will be our job to keep the home fans quiet, especially in the first 20 minutes when they will be really up for it. We will need to work well defensively but I also feel that we must score and I think we will."
Tuesday 15.22, Christian Châtelet, French Newsdesk
Former Barcelona and Arsenal player Thierry Henry was a surprise attendee at training at the Camp Nou yesterday. The New York Red Bulls striker (eight goals in seven games) took the occasion to visit the recently operated on Éric Abidal. The left-back was also visited by France national coach Laurent Blanc on Monday although he is set to miss the cut for UEFA EURO 2012.
Tuesday 15.04, Delfín Ramírez, Spanish newsdesk
Catalan sports daily El Mundo Deportivo say that it is "Leo Messi Time", as the Argentinian has not yet scored against Chelsea. "The genius is signing off on an apotheosis season," reads the paper. "Now he needs to perform in the Champions League to get his fourth straight Ballon d'Or; a landmark without precedent in the history of this trophy. However, the most recent images of Barça's No10 are of frustration: the 1-0 at Stamford Bridge and, above all, the defeat against Madrid in the Clásico, topped with a goal from Cristiano Ronaldo."
Tuesday 14.47, Jürgen Baumgartner, German newsdesk
The Münchner Merkur today has the headline "Mortgage in yellow," in reference to the seven Bayern players who will be banned from a possible final if they get booked on Wednesday: David Alaba, Holger Badstuber, Jérôme Boateng, Luiz Gustavo, Toni Kroos, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller. "Bans in the decisive stage of a competition – that is a classic. Michael Ballack's booking in the 2002 World Cup semi-final is unforgotten," writes the paper about Ballack's foul that left him sidelined for the showpiece, where Germany lost 2-0 against Brazil.
Tuesday 14.35, Paul Bryan, from the Bayern press conference
The last time I attended a Bayern press conference here in Madrid was four years ago prior to the Bundesliga side's UEFA Cup quarter-final, second leg against Getafe CF. Interest was high ahead of that encounter but it's nothing compared to today. As they wait patiently for today's protagonists, journalists from Germany and Spain continue to chatter about what might unfold at the Santiago Bernabéu tomorrow night. A dramatic 3-3 draw after extra-time took Bayern through to the last four of the UEFA Cup at Getafe's expense last time out; one wonders if we are in store for drama of a similar magnitude tomorrow.
Tuesday 14.30, Paul Bryan, from the Bayern press conference
We've just been told there will be a short delay to the start of the Bayern press conference here at the Westin Palace Hotel located in the museum quarter of the Spanish capital. Once underway we will hear the thoughts of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Manuel Neuer and coach Jupp Heynckes ahead of tomorrow night's semi-final at the Santiago Bernabéu. Outside the hotel, travelling fans have gathered on a beautiful spring afternoon in Madrid, anticipating a view of their heroes once today's media activities have concluded.
Tuesday 14.26, Marcos Prieto from the Real Madrid press conference
Echoing the sentiments of Barcelona's Gerard Piqué yesterday, Esteban Granero today told the press that as a lifelong Madrid fan, he puts the success of his team ahead of his personal aims of playing regularly. "I have been here since I was eight years old and I've always wanted this," said the midfielder. "I have grown a lot this year and become a better player and a better person, and expect to be here more years.
Granero, or 'El Pirata' (the pirate) added: "I'm proud to be here. I've watched Real Madrid playing three finals on TV and celebrated at La Cibeles. We are now one step away from doing it again. We have a difficult match ahead but we are ready. It's time to prove we have to be in the final."
Tuesday 14.20, Marcos Prieto from the Real Madrid press conference
José Mourinho also spoke of the infectious excitement created by the UEFA Champions League. "I see my players excited about this semi-final like the Inter players were two years ago before the semi-final against Barcelona," said the Madrid coach. "It's not because of their age, it's because of the UEFA Champions League – they just want to win it."
"This year in Madrid has been a rich experience and it is making me a better coach. We can win two titles, one or none. This is the excitement of football that turns my hair grey."
Tuesday 14.16, Marcos Prieto from the Real Madrid press conference
Real Madrid coach José Mourinho was in confident mood when he spoke to the media earlier, but was understandably wary of their illustrious German opponents: "We know what we want to do tomorrow and how to do it. I also know what Bayern want to do," declared Mourinho. "If they don't score, they will be out – I think they will score. Bayern are a great team, the coach is good and they have the right to think they are going to play the final."
Tuesday 13.57, UEFA.com London newsdesk
Glancing over the statistics from Chelsea's first-leg home win against Barcelona, the victory appears even more remarkable – while the omens for tonight's match at the Nou Camp do not look good:
Didier Drogba was the only Chelsea player to hit the target, but luckily enough it found the net. Barça managed six attempts on goal.
Barcelona completed 782 passes, a staggering 588 more than their vanquishers, who were made to cover more ground – 107,342 metres (2,525 more than Josep Guardiola's side).
Xavi Hernández completed 127 passes, more than any other player. The nearest Chelsea came to that figure was Jon Obi Mikel's 38.
Tuesday 13.42, Paul Saffer in Barcelona
The mood of the London media this morning, and indeed the Chelsea travelling support – despite the Blues being Josep Guardiola's nemeses, despite Barcelona's recent consecutive defeats and despite the value of just one away goal tonight – seems to be that the visitors will be outdone despite a valiant effort. But then, as I contemplate the fate of my own team tonight, spiritually and geographically more than 1,000km from here, a wary pessimism does seem the default setting for most football fans. Apart perhaps from a certain group of Catalans, whose heroes I last saw in the flesh dismantling Manchester United FC at Wembley 11 months ago.
Tuesday 13.24, Paul Zaharia in Romania
The daily paper Pro Sport writes about the Barcelona match tonight with the headline "The comeback of the lost son." The paper adds: "In just seven days, Barcelona risk losing the two most important trophies of their season. Chelsea may be the side that ruins Barcelona's dream of becoming the first team since AC Milan to win successive European Cups. Barcelona, though, are on a 16-match unbeaten streak at home in the Champions League."
The other Romanian daily sports paper, Gazeta Sporturilor, has the headline "The Barca of suffering" – a pun, as the Romanian word 'Barca' means 'boat'. The daily writes: "Suddenly, the serenity disappeared in Catalunya. In only four days, Barcelona lost two successive matches for the first time in three years. These defeats are harder to cope with now, and generate negativity exactly when Guardiola does not need it. If Barça do not qualify, they will have only the Spanish Cup final, which is not enough after 13 trophies in the last four years."
Tuesday 13.04, Delfín Ramírez, Spanish newsdesk
Sports daily AS makes clear the importance of tonight's second leg between Barcelona and Chelsea, with the headline: "Final at Camp Nou," to which they add: "Barça must make playing at home their passport to Munich."
"To get to Munich, Barça must now win a final," says the paper. "In their favour they will be with their own fans at their home stadium, but with the disadvantage of having lost out 1-0 in the first leg and the knowledge that any goal from Chelsea in effect counts double. The note on which the season ends depends largely on this game for Pep Guardiola. A success against the English would be a breath of fresh air for a side sluggish after Saturday's setback against Real Madrid."
Tuesday 12.48, Jürgen Baumgartner, German newsdesk
The Munich-based tz has an interview with former Real Madrid star and German international Günter Netzer. According to him Bayern's chances "are still 50-50". He continued: "It is nice that they won the first leg, that gives them a little wind on their backs – but nothing more. Everyone knows it will be a very difficult task. They have to play their match of the year!"
Netzer has a theory on how Bayern can be successful: "The most important thing is to play clever; they have to be aware of their own strengths. Also, [Arjen] Robben and [Franck] Ribéry are in demand, they must be the outriders! Then Bayern have a chance, but it will be a different Real to the first leg. Bayern must not just try to protect the result from the first leg, because I am 100% sure that will go wrong. They have to attack and create chances of their own."
Tuesday 12.28, UEFA.com newsdesk
Former Arsenal FC striker Alan Smith has been considering tonight's match at the Camp Nou in his column for The Daily Telegraph, and he believes Josep Guardiola will bring Alexis Sánchez back into the starting line-up, saying that the pace of Sánchez can open the door for Lionel Messi.
The Chilean winger was confined to being a substitute in the Clásico defeat, but made an immediate impact when brought on, levelling the scores. Smith thinks it is unlikely Guardiola will make the same decision again. "The feeling is that Sánchez will get the nod to provide a focal point for Barça's attacks," he says.
"This way, Chelsea's back four will be more reluctant to squeeze up, knowing what damage the Chilean's pace can cause in behind. In addition, Messi and Co can work around Sánchez to give the team a more balanced feel, so freeing up the little Argentine and giving him another option in possession.
"There is no question that Barça have missed the injured David Villa this season, but Sánchez can step forward to do a valuable job tonight."
Tuesday 12.10, Jürgen Baumgartner, German newsdesk
German sports magazine kicker feels that Bayern need "a very special performance," in Madrid because "the last three visits ended with defeats". Although the publication adds: "However, in 2006/07 the result was 2-3, which, in the end, was enough to reach the next round, and that would also help FCB on Wednesday."
Furthermore, the magazine has a quote from Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes: "We have to reach our full potential, which means 100% or 110%. The last 10% is emotion. It is clear we have to score one or two goals. But we have the ability to manage that, as we have outstanding offensive players."
Monday 12.00, UEFA.com newsdesk
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