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Barcelona bids to outshine Premier League clubs

Barcelona bids to outshine Premier League clubs

Facing the strength of English football in the Champions League and chasing scoring records in Spain, Barcelona could be only a few games away from proving itself the best team in the world.
Saturday's spectacular 6-2 victory away to Real Madrid underlined its supremacy over its traditional rival in the Spanish league and opened up a seven-point lead in La Liga. It also took Barca to 100 league goals for the season and now the Catalan football giant has four games to overtake the record of 107 set by Real in 1989-90.
Although England's Premier League appears to be dominating European club football with three Champions League semifinalists for the second season in a row and a finalist for the fifth year in succession, Barcelona looks strong enough to beat any of the top English sides.
Now it has the chance to prove it.
"We will go to win, to attack and to qualify for the final in Rome," coach Pep Guardiola said ahead of Wednesday's Champions League semifinal second leg against Chelsea. "Chelsea know that. This result (6-2 at Madrid) will help us."
Unless it is to rely on a penalty shootout, however, it has to score at least once at Chelsea to reach the final of the Champions League and face another English team _ either Manchester United or Arsenal _ in the May 27 final in Rome.
Barca was held 0-0 at home by Chelsea last Tuesday and hopes that Saturday's scoring spree carries over to another big performance at Stamford Bridge. Guardiola, who only took charge at the start of the season, is confident that his players won't have left their best form and fitness behind on Saturday and will be up for another showpiece display in west London.
"When a player is so close to Rome, there is no such thing as tiredness," he said.
But it will be a huge letdown for Barcelona fans and football in general if Guardiola's team can't repeat some of the performance it produced against Madrid.
Last week Chelsea stifled Barca's impressive strikeforce of Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o, who have scored a combined 69 league goals this season, and the flow of passes provided by Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.
Now wily coach Guus Hiddink hopes to do the same at Stamford Bridge.
The Dutchman is expected to send out a lineup that will try and make sure Barcelona's talented stars do not get a chance to show off their skills in front of 40,000 Chelsea fans. That task would be made easier if Henry fails to recover from a knee injury picked up against Real.
Hiddink saw defensive problems in Saturday's 3-1 victory over Fulham that he does not want to see again against Barca.
That makes it imperative for Guardiola to get the best out of his stars, partly to make sure it doesn't fall at the semifinal hurdle for the second season in a row and partly to show that attractive, positive football is also the way to win titles.
It happened at national team level last year when Spain impressively won the European Championship and is now the best in the world. But that was after Barcelona got knocked out of the Champions League semifinal and two English clubs, Manchester United and Chelsea, made it to Moscow for the final where United triumphed after a penalty shootout and a 1-1 draw.
That final could be repeated in Rome and Barcelona is out to prevent it happening again.
Chelsea's players didn't win many friends by shackling the Barcelona players at Camp Nou but they were only doing their job. Hiddink's team has talented forwards such as Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka but he is likely to tell his stars not to take any risks on Wednesday.
Now it's up to Barca to show the millions watching worldwide on TV that it has the ability to overcome a solid Chelsea lineup and reach the final.
Hiddink won't fall into the same trap as Madrid's Juande Ramos who pushed his defensive midfielders high up and repeatedly got caught out on the break.
It means Barca will have to pull Chelsea's midfielders out of position and give Messi and Henry chances to run at the defenders from the flanks, opening up space inside the area.
Guardiola, who was a talented midfielder for the club as a player, has proved himself as a top quality coach too and appears to be guiding Barcelona back to greatness.
It is amazing that one of football's greatest clubs has only won Europe's top prize twice, in 1992 and 2006, while Madrid has the record of nine titles.
Victories over two English teams will bring the title back to Camp Nou and that could be just the start of a spell of dominance for Guardiola and his stars.
English teams may be filling most of the Champions League spots, but there's a good chance that best of all will be Spanish.


Updated : 2021-04-12 10:19 GMT+08:00