Guus Hiddink probably boarded his teams’ private jet back to London feeling pretty satisfied with his players and with himself. The last team to walk away from the Camp Nou with a 0-0 result was Manchester United, under the same Champions League semi-final circumstances, just over a year ago. His team face Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday, and the Dutchmen will see the game as an opportunity to rotate his squad in preparation for round two with Barca next Wednesday.
Pep Guardiola probably drove home a frustrated, yet optimistic, man. Frustrated at Chelsea’s negative, overly aggressive tactics, and his teams inability to turn there 71% of possession into at least one goal. But, optimistic in the fact that the result means that Chelsea will, at some stage, have to chase the game at Stamford Bridge. His team may only have to score once — and that leaves the Champions League final still very much within reach.
This must lead the Barcelona tactician to wonder — how important is it that his team go to the Santiago Bernabeu on Saturday chasing the victory?
Everyone at FC Barcelona, not just Pep, believes they must always attack, always win. Regardless of the match or circumstances. Plus, this is no ordinary match — the opposition is Real Madrid. The boys from Catalonia only get two chances a year to show the world they’re a better team than their arch rival. The thought of effectively conceding the match before a ball’s even been kicked must sound ridiculous, potential Champions League final or not.
Plus, a win at the Bernabeu would effectively make them La Liga champions. The gap would be back out to seven points with four matches left. That would be a huge relief going into their rematch with Chelsea.
A loss would be a problem, though. Barcelona may have been amazing this season, but they could still finish trophy-less. A trip to the Riazor on the final day with the league still in the balance to face a Deportivo la Coruna side gunning for a place in Europe wouldn’t be a pleasant experience at all. Before that, they must face another Europe chaser in Villarreal, Mallorca and a surely relegation threatened Osasuna. Not exactly a straightforward run home.
But is going for the three points in Madrid the best idea? After all, a draw would be far from the end of the world. Yes, El Classico is the biggest match in Spain, one of the biggest in the world. And yes, Barcelona’s mandate is to not just win, but win with style. But, this is not a stand alone match. There are other factors to be considered.
Barcelona face a tough trip to London next week. If Pep plays all his big guns on Saturday night, he will risk them getting injured or being fatigued for their return clash, four days later, with Chelsea. He will already be without captain Carlos Puyol and Rafa Marquez, does he want to risk being without Messi, Alves or Iniesta, too?
Besides, Real are the team who have to win. Not only that, they need to win by three goals if they are to gain head-to-head ascendancy over the Blaugrana. This is a task that Iker Casillas has already labelled as, “impossible”.
So, Pep may be inclined to give some of his stars a rest and a few of the lesser lights a chance to shine in a big game. A team composed of the likes of Busquets, Gudjohnsen, Seydou Keita and Alexander Hleb could definitely compete with a full strength Real Madrid line-up.
I’m sure Pep is as proud a Catalan as they come, and in his heart, he wants to do the double over Los Merengues. But, given the events of last night, one feels he has a tough choice to make.
What’s more important, beating Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, or a spot in the Champions League Final? I guess we’ll find out.