Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A serious case of nerves ahead of Chelsea’s biggest game of the season so far


I confess to trepidation as I write this blog. However, please forgive me for a further confession: my nerves aren’t to do with the law.

Instead, they’re tied up in the fate of Chelsea FC, the club I’ve supported since I was a boy. I wrote a few weeks ago about Fernando Torres and his loss of confidence, a strange condition because while he continued to play well in other areas of the pitch when it came to a chance in front of goal he seemed to be suffering some kind of curse. Today I’m writing about a bigger subject than even the enigmatic Torres: the remainder of Chelsea’s season.

To lapse into football cliché, it’s all to play for. The sacking of Andre Villas-Boas in early March may have seemed harsh but it has resulted in a significant upswing in Chelsea’s fortunes. Roberto Di Matteo – who played for Chelsea 119 times between 1996 and 2002, netting 15 goals – has come in and done an excellent job, taking what the press had taken to describing as a misfiring team of ageing pros to an FA Cup final against Liverpool and a Champions League semi-final against Barcelona. Currently lying sixth in the Premier League, Chelsea also have a chance of a top four finish by the end of the domestic season.

But tonight’s semi-final second leg against Barcelona is what’s got me on edge. Chelsea go into the game in the ascendancy, after last week’s 1-0 home win. It would be amazing if we could return from the daunting Nou Camp with an overall victory against a team which contains the likes of Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, but aside from the mountain of a task ahead I can’t help but be worried by two things.

One, Di Matteo says that Chelsea will go into the game with the intention of scoring. This sounds admirable, but I hope the team doesn’t abandon its solid defensive principles in the process. I would have thought that a counter-attacking game was the best option at the Nou Camp.

Two, Torres has raised his head above the parapet and boldly stated that Chelsea can win. Granted, he cites Chelsea’s battling qualities as essential in this mission, but is the public confidence of a player who has generally been so cursed with hesitancy this season a good thing? Or is it tempting fate?

Time will tell. Happily, shortly after my last piece on footballing matters Torres ended his goal drought by scoring two goals in the 5-2 FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester City. In truth, he wasn’t hugely impressive on Saturday’s in the 0-0 draw with Arsenal. Perhaps, then, the very act of writing will have an influence on tonight’s game?

I doubt it. Football fans the world over are prone to superstition, but cometh the hour, cometh solely Di Matteo, his team, the Nou Camp and the not inconsiderable task of prevailing over the best side in world football by far. I’ll be watching – nervously.