Wednesday, 18 April 2012

One last hurrah for the Chelsea old guard

Slogged would be the word to describe how Chelsea have made their way to the final of the FA Cup and semi-final of an even more prestigious competition, the Champions League. Despite their shaky league form, could this be the year they claim an unlikely double?

The Londoners will head into the former as favourites having blown away rivals Tottenham 5-1 over the weekend. However, the latter is a different kettle of fish entirely.

Tonight Chelsea go head-to-head once again with Barcelona, the world's greatest team, on the biggest stage in club football. The last time the teams met, Barca scored in the last-minute to progress on away goals rule. This was the infamous match where referee Tom Henning Ovrebo retired after receiving death threats for dismissing multiple Chelsea penalty appeals.

It is three years since that day and Chelsea have only made minor changes to their team; the spine of Cech-Terry-Lampard-Drogba remains the same. With the exception of Juan Mata, who has at times carried Chelsea through rough patches of form, the latest recruits have failed to produce the major impact needed to replace the ageing core four.

Fernando Torres is a shadow of the player he was before his injury and in all honesty it has often been only the £50 million transfer fee that has demanded he be played. Another signing from Liverpool, Raul Meireles, has been criticised for ignoring his defensive duties.

The progress of Salomon Kalou will have greatly disappointed Chelsea fans, as after showing promise he has been confined to only 14 appearances this campaign. Conversely, it has been a breakthrough season for Daniel Sturridge but whether he can be viewed as a world-beater yet is questionable, and is more likely to be reserved for super-sub impact.

In defence, a lot has been said on centre-back not looking like David Luiz's natural position. It led to the signing of Gary Cahill, who has impressed, though not enough to hold down a definite starting position.

The failings of these new signings to integrate themselves as Stamford Bridge favourites could mean it is down to the old guard to once again to fly the flag for Chelsea in Europe.

They did it against Napoli in the quarter-final when firstly Drogba, then Terry, then a Lampard penalty hauled Chelsea back from an adverse 0-2 first-leg scoreline. Such iconic performances will be difficult to repeat against Barca who are now playing their attacking football so confidently that they regularly leave just one player, Carles Puyol, to sit in defence.

It will take an immense effort for a 33-year-old Didier Drogba to be the tormenting menace he was in his prime. However, his well-timed thunderous opener against Spurs on the weekend showed he can still be the big game player when needed. It may have been just what was needed to reinvigorate him.

Chelsea will be hoping Frank Lampard can orchestrate the midfield so Ramires and Mata are free to take the game to Barcelona. They also need their captain to show the kind of commitment as he did in the 2010 World Cup, when in the purest act of devotion he threw his body desperately to block a Slovenian shot.

What’s more, they need to do it not once but twice. Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo will tell his veteran players to seize this chance because the opportunity to realise the Abramovic dream may not come around again.

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