FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi, from Argentina, reacts after scoring against AC Milan during the 2nd leg, quarterfinal Champions League soccer match at the Camp Nou, in Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, April 3, 2012.
The right foot
Two of the game’s most storied and celebrated clubs meet Wednesday in London in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League, and the matchup figures to be an exhilarating one. Upstart Chelsea has been playing out of their minds of late, following the call of new manager Roberto Di Matteo and veterans like John Terry holding down the back and Didier Drogba leading the attack. Meanwhile, everybody who hasn’t been living under a rock is aware of the mastery that Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has shown this year, clearly establishing himself as the best in the game right now. With a supporting cast of clever passers and pure athletes like Xavi and Andres Iniesta, FCB football is a beauty to behold. Keep an eye out for the following players, as they are part of the reason soccer is called the ‘beautiful game.’
John Terry, D, Chelsea
The old head in the back will have a tough task keeping the play in front of him against one of the deadliest attacking teams in the world. Barcelona will score goals, so the big issue for Terry is how to limit the damage and rally his troops. He’ll have to keep tight rein on David Luiz and use all his experience to blunt the magical Lionel Messi. Terry has shown he has the heart and the passion — he’ll have to show he has the legs.
Petr Cech, GK, Chelsea
The once undisputed king of keepers has seen his star dimmed a little bit but Cech can still make the big stop and carry off the big save. Against a Barcelona team that fires at will, he will need to be razor-sharp. His organization, positioning and distribution could be the x-factor that decides this game.
Lionel Messi, F, Barcelona
What is there left to say about the undisputed greatest player in the game? He’s on pace to shatter Gerd Muller’s season scoring record, is re-writing history with every game, and is dazzling, baffling, amusing and wonderful in equal measure. A man who can score at any time from anywhere, he’s the one man who cannot be allowed to drift and roam at the Bridge if Chelsea have any hope. If they don’t, no worries: no one yet has solved the Messi question.
Victor Valdes, GK, Barcelona
If there is a weakness for Barcelona, it’s on defense and in the nets. Valdes is not a world-class keeper, merely a serviceable one. The fact is, he hasn’t had to be great: so much of the heavy lifting is done by Carlos Puyol in front of him, and most of the action is at the other end of the field. But smart teams test him as often as possible: he is poor going side to side and can be caught napping.
The Barcelona midfielder is a pass master and will be one of the main men Spain have to unlock defences. Was named player of the tournament by UEFA four years ago and World player of the year in 2010.
Didier Drogba, F, Chelsea
Drogba may be getting long in the tooth but there is no doubt that he can score big goals in big games. He proved that Sunday against Tottenham in the FA Cup final, and he’ll have to do it again Wednesday against Barcelona. Bullishly strong, Drogba’s game has become more well-rounded from the days when he was only a pure finisher: he can create for himself as well as set up others and his partnerships with Juan Mata and Ramires have paid dividends.