Coach Josep Guardiola believes FC Barcelona have reached a "decisive moment" in a remarkable season as the UEFA Champions League's leading scorers look to seize the initiative in their semi-final against Chelsea FC.
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If FC Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola is feeling the pressure of a UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg against Chelsea FC and the need to overcome recent vulnerability against English clubs, then he is not showing it.
Barcelona were eliminated by Manchester United FC in last season's semi-final and by Liverpool FC the previous year and have failed to win in their past four home ties against English sides. Guardiola also knows in the last six UEFA Champions League games between these two outfits, Barça have only won when the Blues have had a player sent off. But the Catalan club's coach believes he is in charge of an extraordinary team – one which is capable of imposing itself on Chelsea. "I'm as happy as a little boy with a new pair of shoes," grinned the 38-year-old. "I don't know if this moment can ever be repeated. The world will be watching, we are playing football which gives me joy and pride and I have 100 per cent faith in my squad. The tie will only be settled in London but we will try and play at our top level, with intensity and quick, decisive passing."
It is the style which has made Barça leading scorers in the UEFA Champions League this season, reaching their third semi-final in four years via aggregate 6-3 and 5-1 defeats of Olympique Lyonnais and FC Bayern München. Guardiola does not subscribe to the theory that the London club's style will present his charges with a unique challenge. "Chelsea might be a little more physical and a little more direct than most sides we've played, but teams regularly try to counterattack us with speed and power," he argued. "It will be crucial to keep our shape and attack in an ordered fashion."
'Moment of truth'
Barça have all their key players fit with both Rafael Márquez and Yaya Touré likely to return having been rested in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Valencia CF. "In any season when you are playing well you reach a decisive moment, the moment of truth. This is one and we are playing a legendary team – I know it will be very tough," Guardiola added.
Chelsea arrive at the Camp Nou with first choice left-back Ashley Cole suspended, but their coach Guus Hiddink, who has revolutionised their season since arriving in February, believes that containing this Lionel Messi-inspired side is a job for the entire team, not just Cole's likely replacement José Bosingwa. "I have watched Barça for many years because I like their attacking philosophy," said the Dutchman who has coached Spanish sides Valencia, Real Madrid CF and Real Betis Balompié.
"Of course I've seen and studied the way Barça destroyed the Bayern defence in the quarter-final first leg and overran Bayern all over the pitch. My team must start with total concentration because we can't and won't let Barça do that to us." Hiddink is also without Ricardo Carvalho, Deco and long-term absentees Joe Cole and Paulo Ferreira, though he does have Barcelona's winning goalscorer from the 2006 UEFA Champions League final, Juliano Belletti, at his disposal. "Maybe he knows a little secret which can give us a tiny advantage," said Hiddink, his last words before battle commences typifying his jaunty humour.