Those bracing themselves across the Chelsea backline know what to expect. Only Gary Cahill of the visitors' rearguard has never competed at the Camp Nou, his one previous visit to the arena having been as a gawping 10-year-old tourist, though he will find reassurance in those at his side. John Terry and Petr Cech have been regular visitors here, while Branislav Ivanovic helped infuriate and frustrate the Catalans on his last visit. Then there is Ashley Cole.
The full-back has only faced Barça once here, as one of a quintet of Chelsea players booked in a 2-2 draw at the group stage back in the autumn of 2006, but he has already left his mark on this tie. Cole excelled in the semi-final first leg last week and it was his dart behind Cech to shepherd away Cesc Fábregas's clipped attempt from the line that preserved the London club's clean sheet. The 31-year-old makes a habit of such timely interventions, Roberto Di Matteo having already acknowledged that had it not been for his eye-catching last‑ditch clearance in Naples, when Chelsea already trailed 3-1, his team might already have been "condemned" and cast from the competition.
It is safe to assume the visitors will rely upon Cole's effervescence and ability to read the game on Tuesday evening, just as they will be hoping he – as one of five players one booking from a suspension – does not endure a flash of yellow should Chelsea progress to the final in Munich. This has been a strange season for the defender, though his display in the first leg that merely served as a reminder of his qualities. The omission from the Professional Footballers' Association Premier League team of the year, announced on Sunday, had not felt surprising. His international understudy, Leighton Baines of Everton, claimed the left-back spot in that selection but, if both players are fit and available, the national manager will surely still call upon the tried and trusted performer boasting 93 caps in Poland and Ukraine this summer.
Yet Cole's displays had rather plateaued this term at a level somewhat lower than in previous years, if still higher than most can aspire to attain. Chelsea were a team struggling to buy into André Villas-Boas's philosophy, the side labouring domestically, and the tales of grumbling discontent emanating from a dressing room included the left-back expressing doubts over the Portuguese's approach. It was Cole and Frank Lampard whose omissions in Naples had fractured the mood beyond repair, even if the former had to be summoned from the bench once Jose Bosingwa had succumbed to injury, and went on to deny Christian Maggio from close range.
Now, while Chelsea thrive under their interim coach, there is more of a contentedness to Cole. His display last week suggested as much, whether he was escaping the attentions of a gaggle of opponents near the touchline to flick the ball in-field to a team-mate – a flash of quality most assumed would have been summoned by Lionel Messi – or quelling theconsiderable threat posed by Dani Alves down Barça's right flank. Ramires's muscular presence in support was undoubtedly of benefit, but this was still Cole at his best. For a player who is so hampered by a persistent ankle complaint that he cannot train properly on the day after matches, the sight of him marauding up the wing and unsettling the European champions was staggering. At times, he still feels like a phenomenon.
The left-back had been mooted as a potential summer sale during the darker days of Villas-Boas's brief tenure, though that already feels unthinkable again. He is contracted to 2014 and, in the future, there may not be the same reliance upon him having to feature every week given the emergence of Ryan Bertrand, who had not even been included in the Champions League squad for the first half of the season, as a viable alternative. Yet this is an occasion to summon up the benefits of experience.
Back in 2009 he had been denied an opportunity to impress in this stadium after a third booking of the competition picked up against Juventus in the quarter‑final brought a one-match suspension. As a result, Chelsea went into that game without a recognised left-back, Bosingwa filling in on the opposite side, with Barcelona blunted regardless. That goalless match remains the last time the Catalans failed to score at home in the Champions League. How the visitors, and Cole, will crave a repeat on Tuesday.