Why Chelsea are taking on Barcelona AND the whole Messi-loving world at the Nou Camp

It was the Diada de Sant Jordi in Barcelona on Monday - women gave their men a book on the saint's day and men gave their women a rose, so the pavements were strewn with red petals and lined with trestle tables stacked with works of literature.

As the Chelsea team coach made its way to their hotel near the Nou Camp, the players saw flower-sellers on every corner.

There were no bouquets for them, of course. There rarely are. And they are more of a barbed-wire side.

That is why there is a bit of a 'Dirty Dozen' feel about this foray into hostile territory for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Most of this Chelsea side have, at one time or another, been written off, derided or despised.

And even though their opponents are reeling from last week's first leg defeat and subsequent domestic-title-surrendering loss to Real Madrid on Saturday, Chelsea are still being written off.

They are like a band of grizzled renegades, reprieved for one last mission that barely anyone expects them to complete.

It is said that even their owner, Roman Abramovich, has lost patience with the older players and will get shot of them in the summer.

So they will on their own in the vast bowl of the Nou Camp as they try to summon one more blast of defiance and bloody-mindedness.

They know that this could be their last stand, and that what lies ahead for them is uncertain.

Didier Drogba could be turning out for Shanghai Shenhua in a few months. He could be being managed by Nicolas Anelka.

Obscurity sometimes comes quickly.

The Chelsea players know, too, that few beyond their corner of west London want them to go through.

And if they do pull it off, many will lament it as a crime against football, just as they did when Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan triumphed here at this stage two years ago.

They are up against the darlings of the game, beautiful Barcelona - a team that thrill the soul even when they are perceived to be vulnerable, as they are now.

Barcelona are the kind of side Abramovich dreamed Chelsea might become after he bought them.

He wanted fantasy and beauty - the kind he saw when he was famously beguiled by Manchester United's 4-3 victory over Real Madrid in April 2003.

But it has never quite happened.

Chelsea have played some wonderful football in the last decade, but they have never reached for heaven in the way that the Barcelona of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta do.

But none of this will discomfort John Terry and his team as they head into this showdown with football's golden boys.

The opposite, in fact.

They will feed off it.

Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo already appears to be revelling in a 'No one likes us, we don't care' attitude.

Chelsea's best hope is not to attempt to match the flowing football of Barcelona.

Everyone knows that.

It is to try to reproduce the inspiring stubbornness that enabled them to keep Barcelona at bay last Wednesday.

They were condemned for being negative last week, for 'parking the bus', but they have the mental strength to stick to their game-plan, however unpopular it might be with the purists.

So when Di Matteo was asked in his pre-match press conference whether the way his team plays is good for football, he responded calmly.

"You have to utilise the strengths of your players," he said, "and see what the weakness of the opposition is, so you can win the game."

Chelsea will glory in their modest reputation, make it work in their favour and let Barcelona forget that there is still life in the old men yet.

Terry, after all, is still one of the most technically accomplished centre-backs in world football.

Drogba may dive and gurn and groan, but he still has the power, strength and skill to make the Barcelona defence uneasy.

Cech pulled off a string of superb saves in the first leg and Frank Lampard has enjoyed a renaissance since Andre Villas-Boas left the club.

It was Lampard who, amid all Barcelona's possession at Stamford Bridge last week, hit the sweetest pass of the night to create the only goal.

It is unlikely that Barcelona will be complacent.

They have not recorded a victory against Chelsea for six matches now, and they know how obdurate they can be.

"They know how to play these games," Barcelona central defender Gerard Pique said. "Players like Drogba and Lampard, they have a lot of games in their legs."

He meant it as a compliment - Games in their legs, experience, and bad intentions in their minds.

The odds are against Chelsea, but that is the way the unloved like it.

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williamhill.com

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