A gargantuan task for Chelsea at the Camp Nou may only dawn on some of those players to be clad in shirts the club’s largesse kit sponsors will have produced. When the volume on the stadium speakers are turned up and the chill goes down the spine of these Chelsea players, new to the Camp Nou atmosphere, many will suddenly realize what stage they are on.
There are many memories of great nights at the Camp Nou. Lots of them as expected, belong to Barcelona but some have been stolen by opponents such as Real Madrid, Inter Milan and of course Barcelona’s Wednesday night opponents Chelsea.
In fact, the last time the Blues played in the usually packed Camp Nou, they had the last laugh. They had gone down by two goals in the first half through Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets goals – and had lost John Terry through a red card and Gary Cahill through injury – but rallied back to score two goals to save their Champions League campaign, and a grander objective of qualifying to the competition the following season though a miraculous win against Bayern Munich in the final.
That night will go down as one of the greatest in Chelsea’s history. The 2-2 result was merely enough to guarantee passage into the final after a 1-0 masterclass at Stamford Bridge a fortnight prior. But it was how the gallant 10 men mastered the art of defending boldly and countering Barcelona attack classically, that made it even more beautiful. Roberto Di Matteo had secured a place in the Champions League final for the five-time Premier League winners – a feat only one tactician in the history of Chelsea had managed to do, Avram Grant.
On Wednesday, Antonio Conte would attempt to write his own history by beginning a knockout journey into the last four, but that means dealing with the not-so small issue of beating Barcelona over two legs. One leg already down at Stamford Bridge – which his side blew a 1-0 lead to end in a one all draw – another to go.
Barcelona are capable of blowing Chelsea away in a manner that will get the Blues leaving Camp Nou without a whimper or a whisper, but the as the legend of these games go, it’s never over until it’s over.
Chelsea can reproduce the 2012 semi final night of bliss at the Camp Nou, drawing confidence from what was the last decisive kick by Fernando Torres when he pounced on an Ashley Cole clearance to score the goal that killed off Barcelona’s dream and appetite to win and make the final.
That dream lives on in Conte’s busy mind but for a man with sleepless nights before crucial games as these, you’d expect he may have lost sight of the dream as he pushes forward one step at a time.
This Chelsea squad are devoid of the characters that inspire the kind of performances we’ve come to expect of them in games against the La Liga giants, but that display in the first leg at Stamford Bridge was enough to warrant a positive mentality going into this game.
Camp Nou can be intimidating, but Chelsea’s history and record here is something Conte can drum into the minds and hearts of his players to produce a story that may be told for years and decades to come.