Josep Guardiola may be urging his Barcelona side to put Saturday’s remarkable 6-2 victory at Real Madrid behind them, but he is hoping they can tap into the same devastating vein of skill and stealth when they vie with Chelsea for the right to face Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final.
While some criticised Chelsea for what they saw as a defensive approach in the goalless first leg, full of physical commitment, Guardiola insists he himself had no complaints. “How Chelsea set up at the Camp Nou seemed fine to me; they did well and got a good result – now we’ll see how that pans out over the whole tie,” he said, adding that far from fighting fire with fire, it will be business as usual for his players. “We’ll try and play around them, impose our style of play and score goals. While we won’t avoid physical contact, if we try to combat Chelsea physically that will only play into their hands as that’s their strength. Chelsea are very intense and direct – they put you under pressure. If they lose the ball, they work hard to get it back.”
Barça scaled unbelievable heights at the Santiago Bernabéu at the weekend to open up a seven-point lead at the Liga summit and while the plaudits have subsequently poured down on the architects of that famous victory, Guardiola remains grounded. “What happened in Madrid is history now,” he said. “It was great and the merit of that win is greater because of [Real Madrid’s] performances in the second half of the season. If we were looking at a game of lesser importance then maybe the players might be a little over-confident, but they know this is a massive game, played before millions. We have a marvellous chance of getting to the final and me and my squad will be falling asleep tonight dreaming about it.”
Some may drift off merely dreaming of playing, with the absence of Rafael Márquez and Carles Puyol through injury and suspension leaving an opening at centre-back alongside Gerard Piqué. Eric Abidal is likely to move across to fill the void, with Sylvinho coming in at left-back, and things are also far from clear in the opposition ranks as Guus Hiddink weighs up the pros and cons of departing from Chelsea’s usual 4-3-3 formation and pairing Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka up front. “I don’t waste one second thinking about things that are out of my control; I’ll know after five minutes how they are lining up and I only think about my side, their mental state, what we can control,” said Guardiola, who faces a nervous wait on Thierry Henry as the French striker is struggling with a knee problem. “Whoever I put in the team will compete, fight and do a good job. I will go into the game thinking that Chelsea will play the game of their lives and I will tell my team to prepare for that.”