How do you stop the best player in the world, Lionel Messi will probably be keeping Guus Hiddink awake tonight as he prepares for his stiffest test yet as Chelsea’s interim manager. Whilst I appreciate the bravado that Hiddink is giving in regards to his own players, he is right to dampen down the furore over just concentrating on the supreme Argentine magician. He knows that Barcelona are the best side in Europe right now, by a country mile and to focus all their energies on Messi will see Chelsea fall straight in to Guardiola’s trap. The loss of Ashley Cole is a major problem, without another left back in the squad means the balance of the Blues will be off kilter. Dealing with that lack of balance will be Hiddink’s major concern.
Sometimes, I’m not sure people actually watch European football before commenting on it, if anyone thinks that Barcelona are a one man team, then they need their eyes testing. Of course, Messi is in phenomenal form this season, continuing on the excellent season he had for club and country in 2007-2008 and proving finally that Argentina can produce a player to cope with the tag of being “The Next Maradona”. 34 goals in 45 games for Barcelona plus 5 for Argentina is a phenomenal record, simply mind blowing.
Yet, this is a Barcelona side rescued from the indignity of underachievement through Frank Rijkaard’s last two seasons and their are several factors for this. Firstly, Daniel Alves’ signing was a masterstroke, in another season he’d be favourite for the World Player Of The Year and Chelsea and Liverpool must be kicking themselves after watching his performances this year. Thierry Henry’s second season has shown him return to form after a season of transition, with 24 goals so far and now forms part of Europe’s most famous attacking trio with Eto’o and Messi. Eto’o has also been reborn this season, with 32 goals this season.
Yet, Barca’s side oozes quality throughout but it’s the back line where perhaps Chelsea may profit, with Puyol still struggling, Marquez and Pique join Alves and Abidal in front of Victor Valdes. Now Valdes perhaps gets a little more stick than he deserves, of course he’s not one of the best goalkeepers in Europe, but he’s probably the most underated. The midfield of Xavi, Iniesta and Toure shouldn’t be underestimated at all. Toure adds the steel to the silk that Xavi and Iniesta provide and the ammunition they create has seen the strikers at Barca score 90 goals between them so far in all competitions. A staggering amount under any circumstances.
The British media seem to feel that if you stop Messi, you stop Barcelona, but that simply smacks of jingoism of the highest order. This is a side that could rule Europe for the the next 3 or 4 seasons if they strengthen the back line and tonight is the beginning of a three game period that could define Barca’s season. Hiddink knows that Chelsea are about to face their sternest test in any competition this season and if they can achieve any positive result tonight, it will be his biggest achievement so far in his short tenure at Stamford Bridge.
The general feeling from the British pundits is that Chelsea will have too much for Barcelona, but Hiddink will be instilling in his players in the dressing room that to believe their own hype is the basis for them to come away from the Camp Nou with a kicking. Even a 1-0 defeat will be viewed as a great result so for the Blues to get anything else will be an astounding result. Let’s hope it lives up to the build up and Chelsea fans will be hoping that Hiddink has their team switched on to concentrate on Barcelona and not just Lionel Messi.