Tuesday 11 December 2018

Busquets nervous as Barca bid to lay Chelsea hoodoo

Sergio Busquets deep in thought during yesterday’s press conference at the Nou Camp. Photo: Getty Images
Sergio Busquets deep in thought during yesterday’s press conference at the Nou Camp. Photo: Getty Images

Sam Dean in Barcelona

Sergio Busquets has won everything there is to win, and then done it all over again.

The Champions League? He has lifted it three times. The Spanish title? Six. The Spanish cup? Five. And those are just his achievements at club level.

It is a superhuman tally for a player who, along with Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, has helped to lift Barcelona to near-superhuman levels at times in the past decade.

Yet this is no carefully-constructed winning machine, no matter how full the trophy cabinet.

"We are all human," he said. "Even if it does not look like it, we are all from this planet."

Busquets was referencing the troubles of his struggling team-mate, Andre Gomes, who had earlier this week admitted that his life at Barcelona had become "hell", but he could just as well have been discussing himself.

The plight of Gomes proves even the great Barcelona are not immune from difficulties and disappointments, moments of pain and nights of regret.

Prestige

And the concern for this club, for all its prestige and ability, is that a remarkable number of those in recent years have come against Chelsea.

Barcelona have won none of their past eight meetings with tonight's opponents. Only twice have they even come away with a draw.

Sometimes, that has been enough, as was the case in 2009 when a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge sent Pep Guardiola's side through to the Champions League final. On other occasions, such as in 2012, it has not.

That meeting, six years ago, was the last time these two faced off here. It is still a source of "sadness" for Busquets.

"In that match we started very well," he remembered. "We put ourselves ahead, then they scored a goal and in the second half we tried everything and then with the penalty that we won..."

Messi famously missed from the spot, before Fernando Torres ended the tie in the final minute.

"There are days when the ball does not want to go in," Busquets said. "It was a sad game."

Things have changed since then, and there is little question that the 2012 vintage, under Guardiola, was technically superior to Ernesto Valverde's current crop.

Messi remains, though, and comes into this game having ended his Chelsea curse by scoring his first goal against them, in his ninth game, during last month's first leg. He is also likely to be well rested, having missed last Saturday's victory over Malaga for the birth of his third child.

"He will be fine," said Busquets. "In fact, he will be more motivated than what we are used to and physically he is going to be great, after having an extra game's rest. I hope that this is perfect."

Barcelona, eight points clear at the top of La Liga, are expected to be able to field Andres Iniesta, who trained yesterday after suffering from a hamstring injury against Atletico Madrid.

For the midfielder to return so soon is a gamble, and Valverde said yesterday that he "has to decide whether the risk is excessive", but it is one they are likely to take in a game of such magnitude.

A scoreless draw would send Barcelona through, but there is enough fear of Chelsea and Antonio Conte in these parts for an air of nervousness to fester around the Camp Nou if the home side do not score early.

"They can score at any time," Valverde said of Conte's side. "I am worried about how dangerous Chelsea can be on the counter. Chelsea is a team that manages a lot of different ways of playing. We will try to find a secret formula."

With players like Busquets, Iniesta and Messi, that "secret" is hard to keep quiet.

The danger signs are there, and they are obvious enough for a Chelsea side who will be looking to seize upon any nagging doubts in Barca minds and any fears that recent history may be against them. © Daily Telegraph, London.

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