Barca go into this game in unfamiliar territory - can Guardiola get them back on track and into another final?

Chelsea take on Barcelona in the Nou Camp tonight in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.

The Blues hold a 1-0 lead from the first leg, with a place in the final the prize for whoever can come out on top this evening.

We asked La Liga expert David Cartlidge of www.spanishfootball.info to assess how Barcelona will be approaching the match.

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Reports of Barcelona’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. They have not suddenly become a bad team, but they have picked up a nasty habit of failing to convert their chances in their last few defeats by Chelsea and Real Madrid.

Last Wednesday, in the Stamford Bridge ring, Barca attempted to throw punches with the grace and guile they have demonstrated under Pep Guardiola's leadership. More often than not, they’ve found the target.

But this time was one of those few occasions they did not. Barca threw 19 punches to be exact, seven of which grazed the chin of Chelsea. However, those in the blue corner remained upright and delivered a telling blow of their own.

Roberto Di Matteo's men only had four shots, but that was all they needed to come out on top. Of course they rode their luck, but still they got the result. Barca meanwhile had been so near on so many occasions, yet were so far away. That they had offered the most attractive display meant nothing.

It couldn’t happen again for the Catalans, surely? Only a few days later, it did.

Camp Nou was the venue this time, and with a league title on the line, Barca produced a lethargic, uninspired performance against Real Madrid. It was at times, slightly surreal.

When Alexis Sánchez equalised, it seemed that the inevitable would happen once again: Barca would gather themselves, and beat down the impregnable white wall which had stood before them. Only this wasn’t a strong white wall, quite frankly it didn’t need to be.

Barca offered little for the adoring masses to get excited about. The goal from Sanchez was brief respite in an otherwise mundane display from Pep's side, and it was capped when Cristiano Ronaldo found himself space on the drenched turf to drive home the ball for 1-2.

The title was heading to Madrid. José Mourinho’s side; devastating, ruthless, intelligent and machine-like had produced another fine win from their production line.

There were no scenes of players surrounding the referee, or complaining about dubious calls or ‘anti-football’ to cling onto – it was a vintage display from those in the rain-soaked white, and their Portuguese general.

The fatigue, build-up of injuries and loss of form to key players seems to have fractured the Barcelona squad. These everyday occurrences in any team have finally taken hold of the very best.

The profligacy and lethargy surely can’t happen again tonight. After all, the last time Barca did lose three in a row was February 2003 and their brilliance has become somewhat taken for granted since then.

The players are sad, Guardiola admitted unsurprisingly. After all, this is a team who are used to winning. They’ve taken 13 of the last 16 available trophies, and have qualified for five Champions League semi-finals in a row.

If he walked into that dressing room on Saturday evening and the players had been buzzing, then there would be something to worry about.

Gerard Piqué, the source of many rumours this season on and off the pitch, spoke eloquently at the pre-game press conference on Monday. Ostracised in recent weeks, he spoke true to his character, as a fan, and believer of this team.

His relationship with Guardiola is apparently icy, but who knows what goes on behind closed doors?

The coach is a fascinating figure. He’s intelligent, articulate and difficult to read. He faces one of the toughest tasks this week of his short but glittering coaching career. He must raise Barca from this unfamiliar territory of losing games and get them back to the all-conquering beast they can be.

So how will he do that?

For starters Piqué is set to return, his strides out of defence with the ball have been missed. So too, has his covering work for those in fullback positions. Sánchez could be vital too, as he looks to create space and take advantage of any untidiness from Chelsea.

This is still a great team, full of top players and an excellent coach. Guardiola, Piqué and the rest of the team don’t need to prove a point to the doubters, just themselves.

Barca vs Chelsea preview: Click here for all the news, features and build-up ahead of the big game  

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Follow David Cartlidge on Twitter @davidjaca nd at www.spanishfootball.info

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