Roberto Di Matteo has conceded Chelsea must summon "two perfect games" if they are to get past Barcelona and into the Champions League final, but he has urged his team to play without fear and draw conviction from their own recent resurgent form.
The London club welcome the holders having not lost to the Catalans in their past five meetings, fuelling the belief that they could be the English side best suited to combat Barça's slick possession football. Plans have been drawn up to nullify the considerable threat posed by the prolific Lionel Messi, who has already scored 63 goals this season, but Chelsea will attempt both to stifle the visitors and impose their own attacking game-plan on the occasion.
There is an acceptance that their margin for error is slim. "It's fair to say we need two perfect games from our point of view against this team," said Di Matteo, who has won nine of his 12 games in charge since succeeding André Villas-Boas as interim first-team coach in March.
"But I think, also, the fact we've been performing very well over the last six weeks gives us the belief and the self‑confidence we can go on and produce two perfect games.
"This is the biggest challenge for any manager, playing against the best team in the world, but Barça don't like playing against us. The results in the past show that: the way we play is maybe a bit more difficult for them to play against. We've shown on many occasions that we're a team who can give them problems."
The Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, has been a long-standing admirer of the Catalans' coach, Pep Guardiola, and continues to monitor the 41-year-old's contractual situation at Camp Nou – he has yet to sign an extension to a deal that expires this summer – in the optimistic hope that he could be lured to Stamford Bridge as a long-term successor for Villas‑Boas in the summer. "That is fantasy, it's hypothetical," said Guardiola. "I am coach of Barcelona now and Chelsea have a very good manager who is getting unbelievable results. It's not useful for Chelsea or for Barcelona to talk about that. This is not the time.
"I admire this generation of Chelsea players because it's not easy to achieve what they have done – lots of semi-finals, and a final, in the Champions League. They have changed a few players and coaches but their soul and spirit remain the same. Maybe they do not have the consistency for a league, but in competitions like this they are one of the best teams in the world. That's why they are semi-finalists. I am struggling to see how we are going to hurt them and how we are going to create chances to score goals."
The presence of Messi – a player who had scored 78 goals for Barça the last time he featured at Stamford Bridge in 2009, but now boasts 243 for the club – backed up by a fluid supply-line from midfield, and the absence of the recently impressive David Luiz, out for at least a fortnight with a hamstring injury, will offer the visitors considerable encouragement. But Chelsea will be driven by the desire to make amends for losing out so controversially on away goals at this stage three years ago as they enter their sixth semi‑final in nine years.
"Some of my worst moments in football have been losing semi-finals, and that Barcelona game three years ago more than most given the circumstances," said Frank Lampard. "It gets harder every year to achieve, but we're as determined as ever to win it. We're under no illusions, but we like the tag of underdogs. We believe in ourselves. You don't want to take too much fear into the game – you can talk up Barcelona so much you are afraid – but we'll have to be at our best because we're taking on the best.
"We're proud Messi has never scored against us [in six previous meetings] and we pride ourselves on the fact we're a strong team who have caused them difficulties before, but statistics and records can go out of the window the way he's playing. He's the most dangerous player in world football, but we must pressure them in all areas of the pitch.
"Our style of play has been very effective of late. We're mixing the powerful, organised, disciplined game with some very good attacking football. On our day, we can be a match for anyone."
That style of play drew comment from Cesc Fabregas last night, the former Arsenal midfielder – who has won only three of his 16 games against Chelsea over the years – suggesting Di Matteo's side had reverted to type having flirted with a more progressive approach under Villas-Boas. "Under Villas-Boas they tried to have the ball a lot more, not play so many balls long and not seek out the second ball quite so much," said Fabregas. "Now they have returned a bit to that Chelsea I knew before I left (for Spain), that made them great and led them to win the Premier league and Cups and reach finals.
"They are now a team that have Drogba as a No9, a player that brings the ball down well, is very quick, he is strong. They are a very, very dangerous team. They are like motorbikes now: faster, quicker to get the ball forward, get after it and cause problems."