PARIS: The Nou Camp serves up arguably the main dish of today’s Champions League action with Chelsea aiming to take out their FA Cup frustration on Barcelona.
The supporting menu for this second batch of first knockout round first leg games is hardly any less appetising with former European champions Manchester United and AC Milan facing off at Old Trafford.
Reigning title-holders Porto host Inter Milan while Lyon have a date with German giants Werder Bremen in the night’s other two fixtures.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, who knows his way around the Nou Camp having served as Barca’s assistant coach, had his dream of an unprecedented four-trophy haul dashed at the weekend when his weakened side were knocked out of the FA Cup by Newcastle.
The chances of quick redemption in Spain have been hampered by the season-ending ankle fracture suffered by England defender Wayne Bridge on Sunday.
William Gallas (groin) and Damien Duff (knee) also had to come off early at St James’ Park while star winger Arjen Robben is sidelined until next month. Midfielder Frank Lampard reckons Chelsea can prevail despite these setbacks.
“We’ve got to patch ourselves up but sometimes these situations work in your favour, as people dig even deeper to help the team.
“We’re playing possibly the best team in Europe along with ourselves, Juventus and AC Milan, so it’s a massive test that the whole world will be watching. We’re confident we can go through.”
Didier Drogba, who has missed five matches with a thigh strain, looks however to have won his fight to be fit to take on Frank Rijkaard’s runaway Spanish league leaders.
Mourinho is relishing his return to the place where he honed his managerial skills first under Bobby Robson then Louis Van Gaal.
“I left as assistant and I go back as European champion and Chelsea boss so it is fantastic for me,” the master tactician from Portugal said.
Barca, who have happy memories of Chelsea’s last visit which ended 5-1 in favour of the hosts in the 1999-2000 quarter-finals, were buoyed by a 2-0 win over Mallorca at the weekend.
“That was an important result ahead of meeting Chelsea, as a win always makes you feel good,” Rijkaard noted.
Barcelona boast in their midst FIFA’s Footballer of the Year Ronaldhino, but the holder of that title in Europe, Andriy Shevchenko, is out of AC Milan’s trip to Manchester United with a fractured cheekbone.
The Ukrainian’s absence has forced manager Carlo Ancelotti to tinker with his tactics.
“We have several possible solutions but I will have to consider them,” he said.
“Shevchenko is an important player for us but my only consolation is that without him we have still managed to play well.”
Serie A leaders AC Milan are returning to the scene of their 2003 Champions League final victory over Juventus.
United manager Alex Ferguson has to decide whether to gamble on playing Ruud van Nistelrooy for the first time since the Dutch striker, who has scored 36 goals in 37 European appearances, suffered an Achilles problem in November.
“Ruud will certainly be involved but clearly I have some big decisions to make,” said the Scot.
“We may be putting him in cold but he has been great in training and every time he plays in a European game, you just know he is going to score.”
The 1999 champions go into the match in the best possible frame of mind after their 2-0 FA Cup win over Everton on Saturday.
England international defender Rio Ferdinand is relishing taking on a side that has twice knocked United out of the competition at the semi-final stage.
“It is a massive game. There will be some great players on show and everyone at the club is looking forward to it,” he said.
“We look to be in good shape just now. We are playing with great authority and confidence and it has done us no harm to lead into it with a good result.”
Porto host Inter having appointed Jose Couceiro as their third coach since Mourinho’s departure to Stamford Bridge.
Skipper Jorge Costa is a likely absentee but South African striker Benni McCarthy is back after a three-match suspension while for Inter a question mark hangs over the participation of their talismanic striker Christian Vieri.
Lyon travel to Bremen having to leave behind their captain, defender Claudio Cacapa, in-form striker Bryan Bergougnoux and Anthony Reveillere. – AFP