Di Matteo tells Chelsea to attack wounded Barcelona
As Chelsea boss declares faith in players, Guardiola loses his cool after two straight defeats
CHELSEA manager Roberto Di Matteo has shrugged off suggestions that his team will play negatively in tonight's Champions League semi-final against Barcelona by calling on the Blues to score the away goal that could help secure them a famous victory.
The Londoners go to the Camp Nou with a slender 1-0 lead over Barca, who possess the most-feared attacking line-up in modern football. But boss Di Matteo has rejected the idea of trying to protect that advantage by getting 10 men behind the ball and hoping for the best. Instead the Chelsea manager says he will trust his players to take the game to the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi (pictured).
"We have the qualities within this team to win the Champions League," said the 41-year-old. "We'll have to try and score a goal. That would give us a greater chance. It will be difficult just playing for a goalless draw." Di Matteo knows that if Chelsea can score tonight, Barcelona will have to net three to reach the final on account of the away goals rule.
The omens actually appear to be in Chelsea's favour. The Blues haven't lost to Barca in six meetings, and have only been beaten once in the last 14 games. Barcelona, on the other hand, have rarely looked so vulnerable. Real Madrid became the first team in 55 attempts to win at the Camp Nou this weekend, a win that all but secured them the league title. Barca now face the prospect of losing three straight games for the first time in nine years.
The pressure appears to be taking its toll on Pep Guardiola. The Spaniard was unusually prickly in his pre-match press conference yesterday, swearing in a response to a journalist who questioned his team selection for 'El Clasico' against Madrid and defending Lionel Messi, who has faced criticism after failing to score in either of the last two matches.
"I can never be worried about Messi, even if he goes 27 games without scoring a goal," the Barcelona coach said. "One day he scores three goals, the next day he gives assists and creates chances. We have to give him permission not to score." The prospect of Messi misfiring for a third game rose after the Argentine missed training with a stomach bug on Sunday, but he was back practising with the team yesterday.
Chelsea are not without their own personnel problems. Didier Drogba, the hero of the first leg, has been hampered by a knee injury which kept him out of action last weekend, while potential starters Ashley Cole, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles will know one yellow card will see them suspended from the final. Yet some of the team have received an unlikely boost, according to The Daily Telegraph's Henry Winter: a good luck message from old boss Jose Mourinho, who now manages Barcelona's arch rivals, Real Madrid, and who would end up facing Chelsea in the final.
While there are only two teams battling it out for on the pitch, there is a third element that could prove decisive. Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir, who has taken charge of four Champions League games this season and has yet to show a red card. Tonight's match, however, is his first knockout tie in the competition. Come full time, it could be Cakir whose name is in the headlines.