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As far as Xavi Hernández is concerned, the template for FC Barcelona to overcome Chelsea FC and reach the UEFA Champions League final is to replicate the whirlwind first half the Catalan side produced in defeating FC Bayern München in the previous round.
On that day Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry mounted a four-goal onslaught in the opening 43 minutes of the first leg which, effectively, ensured Barça's presence in the last four. But even if that is the dream route to follow at the Camp Nou against Guus Hiddink's side, Xavi believes Chelsea are a much tougher prospect and that the decisive moments of the tie will come in London. "It would be a huge advantage, in fact it would be a bit of a dream, if we could hit four goals against Chelsea like we did that night," said the 29-year-old.
"What we can repeat, however, is the level of play and the intensity with which we attacked Bayern. My opinion remains that we are not likely to finish the tie in the first leg – the match at Stamford Bridge will be decisive. Look what happened when Chelsea won at Anfield. Despite that victory they had to fight to stay alive in the second leg and what I feel is important is that we now have enough experience to play this cleverly over the two legs of the tie."
Xavi is one of those players who carries experience of all eight UEFA Champions League matches between the two clubs. In fact he, Carles Puyol and coach Josep Guardiola all played some part in Barça's 6-4 victory in the 1999/00 quarter-final which included a 5-1 second-leg triumph – Chelsea's heaviest defeat in European competition. The lasting impression he has, nine years after first testing himself against the Blues, is of immense respect.
"Chelsea do have the tremendous physical power and competitive spirit which everyone talks about but they are also now managed by a fine Dutch coach and I think it's important to point out that they have top-class footballers in the side," Xavi said. "[Frank] Lampard and [Didier] Drogba stand out but there's also the experience of John Terry – he and [Michael] Essien are among the best in the world in their positions. I admire Terry and have a great deal of respect for him. In fact I well remember how his aerial ability knocked us out of the competition four years ago."
That said, the Barça playmaker is uncomfortable with the idea that the power of the English Premier League is, de facto, too much for even the top sides in Spain. "I don't accept that the Premier League is the best in the world, in fact I'd say that in technical and tactical terms our league is superior. I know that a great deal was made of how Liverpool eliminated Real Madrid but one game doesn't prove anything conclusively. Barça are not in this semi-final by chance and we've defeated good sides like Bayern and Olympique Lyonnais to get here. We are ready for this test."
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