By JOHN BOSCHINI
For Chelsea, it's all about revenge when Barcelona arrives at Stamford Bridge for the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal tie on Wednesday.
Much of the game's build-up has focused on the last time these two teams met, when Andres Iniesta scored a last-gasp equalizer to send Barcelona to the 2009 final on away goals. Chelsea fans were irate with what they saw as a poor performance by referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, who turned down four Chelsea penalty shouts in the game. Barcelona went on to easily beat Manchester United in the Champions League final.
In three years since then, much has changed, as Barcelona are the clear favorites over the two legs. Lionel Messi has scored 165 goals for the Catalan club since last playing at Stamford Bridge, while the additions of players like Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez have given Barcelona seemingly unending depth at each position. The opposite has happened at Chelsea, as veterans like Nicolas Anelka, Alex, and Michael Ballack have left the club while the remaining veterans are on the wrong side of 30. The lack of youth development has forced Chelsea to spend outrageous transfer fees on signings Fernando Torres only to see inconsistent returns.
That isn't to say Chelsea aren't capable of pulling off a shocker, at least in the first leg. Robert Di Matteo has revitalized this Chelsea side to a degree and the Blues are riding a seven-game unbeaten run. Barcelona have also been far from convincing on the road this season with losses to Getafe and Osasuna in La Liga.
Here is a look ahead to today's Champions League semifinal:
TV: FX (NOT Fox Soccer Channel), 2 p.m. (Replay on FSC, 5 p.m.)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Barcelona had a relatively easy path to the semifinals except for their repeated clashes with AC Milan. After a win and a draw over the Italian club in the group stages, the two teams met again in the quarterfinals. AC Milan held out for a scoreless draw at the San Siro and briefly held an advantage the when they tied the second leg at 1-1, but a penalty from Messi and an insurance goal from Iniesta booked Barcelona's spot in the semifinals.
Chelsea have done just enough to continue in the Champions League this season. A final-day win over Valencia saw them top Group E thanks to Bayer Leverkusen's collapse against Genk. Chelsea looked to be on their way out with a 3-1 defeat to Napoli in the first leg of the Round of 16, but a memorable comeback at home saw was enough to advance to the quarterfinals, where Chelsea narrowly defeated Benfica.
THE LOWDOWN: Barcelona are massive favorites in this game and rightfully so. They have scored 34 times in Europe this season while winning by four or more goals four times. However, with Barcelona's shaky away form and Chelsea's resurgence, don't expect anything to be settled tonight. The defending champions will still be in a favorable position with a scored draw or even a one-goal deficit heading back to Camp Nou.
Chelsea will be without David Luiz after the central defender picked up a leg injury against Tottenham on Sunday, but Branislov Ivanovic is eligible to step in. Fernando Torres has scored seven goals in 10 games when facing Barcelona, but all of them came before 2006, so Didier Drogba may get the start following his performance over the weekend. Barcelona will hope to exploit the wings, as fullback as been a trouble spot for the English side all season. If Chelsea commit too many men forward, Barcelona will be deadly on the counter-attack.
What do you think of today's game? Does Chelsea have a chance? Can Barcelona put the tie to bed before returning home? Which player will make the biggest impact?
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