Frank Lampard has described the prospect of confronting Barcelona as the ultimate challenge of Chelsea's recent recovery but says conviction is growing within the Premier League club that the European Cup holders and favourites can be beaten in the semi-final stage of the Champions League.
Confidence was helped by success over Tottenham Hotspur in Sunday's FA Cup semi-final, which showed strength and power restored to Chelsea's game after a traumatic season. The Londoners have relied upon those qualities when facing Barça in recent years, and have not been beaten in their past five encounters with the Catalans, although there is an acceptance that Pep Guardiola's team have progressed markedly even from the side that edged out Chelsea at this stage three years ago, courtesy of an away goal, en route to winning the trophy.
"There are not many teams you'd fancy to beat Barcelona over two legs of a semi-final, and they've shown just how good they are in the last few years," said Lampard. "It's a huge, huge challenge. As big as anyone could take on. If we win it would be one of the biggest victories, even if it does only put us in the final and doesn't win us the cup. I don't mind us being written off. I understand what people are saying: everyone has this feeling with Barcelona that they're going to roll over everyone. When they're at their best, they can do that.
"I'm probably the same because, whenever I watch Barcelona on TV, I expect them to win. But, if we play the way we did against Spurs, with the same focus and determination and with the ability we have in our team, we have to believe we have a chance. You have to believe in yourself. At Chelsea we feel we've given them tough games when we've met before and we're ready to do that again.
"We are aware of their strengths – the manager and coaching staff have studied them, and we all watch their games – and they've probably moved on from 2009. But we've changed as well. We'll look at it as it is now. We can't show too much fear against them. We have to respect them but we have take them on and play the way we did against Tottenham. That [performance] was a symbol of Chelsea at our best. We were very strong all over the pitch and looked solid. If we do that, we can give anyone in world football a game, including Barcelona."
Lampard said the prospect of stifling the threat posed by Lionel Messi was daunting. The Argentinian has not scored in six meetings with Chelsea in the past, though arrives at Stamford Bridge with 63 goals to his name this season. "He's a different player to 2009," said the England midfielder. "He was a fantastic player then but now he's improved even more. The level he's taken his game to is something I've never seen before. I grew up on [Diego] Maradona who was my idol as a player, but Messi has taken it to even higher levels. To score 70 goals, which he'll probably end up with this season … well, those are crazy figures. He's the best player in the world on merit – absolutely unbelievable."
Yet Chelsea are revelling in what only recently would have been an unlikely pursuit on the top four, the FA Cup and a first European Cup, with the interim first-team coach, Roberto Di Matteo, having won nine of his 12 matches in charge since the sacking of André Villas-Boas last month. The players have praised the Italian's open approach to management, with key personnel who had previously been so frustrated at bit-part roles now more understanding of the need for squad rotation amid a cluttered schedule.
"Our fixture list is amazing and thank God for that because, when we lost away at Napoli [in the round of 16 first leg in February], you could see our season flitting away," added Lampard. "Now, all of a sudden, we're interested in everything. We're all happy to be here and the manager has to take a lot of credit. You can see the desire and love he has for the club and the fans relate to that. But he's done the simple things right: the basics of management, for me, are man-management and he's done that brilliantly. He's got individuals playing well, with confidence, and when that happens you have the chance of being a very strong team."