GUUS HIDDINK is confident that Jose Bosingwa can effectively shackle Barcelona winger Lionel Messi in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final in the Camp Nou tonight.
The subject of how to stop Messi has dominated the pre-match build-up following the suspension of England left-back Ashley Cole.
It has left Chelsea without a recognised replacement following the sale of Wayne Bridge to Manchester City in January and an untimely knee ligament injury to Paulo Ferreira.
The answer for the Dutchman is to place his faith in the Portugal international.
Normally a right-back, Bosingwa switched to the other flank in the win over West Ham on Saturday but Argentina international Messi, scorer of 21 goals so far this season, is certain to provide him with more problems than Luis Boa Morte.
The Barca winger is now rated among the best in the world but Hiddink remains confident that Bosingwa’s vast European and international experience will nullify his threat.
“At a young age, Messi is one of the best players in the world already,” said Hiddink. “He is the kind of player who is playing in a big club because of his style of play.
“He had big promise and within a short period he has made it happen completely.
“I like very much the way he plays, he does like the stardom of playing and it’s very effective. It looks very simple but it is very difficult.
“But I have full confidence that Bosingwa can do the job.’’
“We have some more options, but if he is doing well he can do the job.
“If you go to a double man-marking system and focus too much on that you forget there are other big players that can do the damage.”
But it is not just Messi who can ruin Chelsea’s dreams of returning to Stamford Bridge with a good result. Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o are equally as potent and Hiddink knows it only too well.
“A lot of teams have shown that it is very difficult to stop them,” said Hiddink.
“The front line is world class, Henry has class and experience and Samuel Eto’o I had as a young player at Real Madrid when he was 17. At that time he was already impressive and then he then got titles and experience.”
Barca are currently four points clear at the top of La Liga after a 2-2 draw with Valencia at the weekend.
A late equaliser from Henry earned a point for the leaders after Messi had given them a first-half lead.
Hiddink insists he has already played out tonight’s first-leg tie in his head and in team meetings, and the outcome has always been a victory.
But the Dutchman knows that sometimes all the best laid plans can go awry.
“You try to analyse what can happen and whether it is within your power to prevent them playing well and for us to be dangerous.
“I said I’d never lost a match in preparation and meetings, but sometimes the reality is more cruel.”
Chelsea and Liverpool produced one of the most exhilarating matches ever seen in the Champions League when they drew 4-4 in the quarter-final, second leg at Stamford Bridge a fortnight ago.
Chelsea secured their semi-final spot 7-5 on aggregate after fighting back from two down at the interval and Hiddink hinted there could be more exciting times ahead at the Camp Nou. “Both teams have the style to attack when they can,” said Hiddink. “Chelsea is not a team with a strategy to sit back and wait until something happens.
“The team is showing a lot of initiative. It is more or less an open clash between two teams who like to go forward.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard says the memory of previous disappointments in the competition — the Blues lost the final on penalties last year and went out at the semi-final stage three times in recent years — will spur them on.
“The more years you are very close and it doesn’t happen, you feel: Will I ever get there? And you all start to get that bit older.
“But the main fuel is determination. You don’t feel it all the time but in big games like against Liverpool, when you know you could be going out, that’s when it really kicks in.’’
And Lampard is clearly relishing tonight’s clash, stating: “When the draw paired us with Barça I just felt that was the best Champions League semi-final I could ever imagine.
“The aura of their stadium and playing against a Barça side who always try for beautiful football – it’s just an amazing experience, and every time they come to Stamford Bridge it’s an explosion.
“But, by the same token, this game will be as hard as you can get. I think it’s well-known in the football world that for the last six months Lionel Messi has been out on his own, by a distance, the best player there is.
“When you play Barça, if you are not on top of your game, then Messi, Xavi (Hernandez) and (Andres) Iniesta will be on top of you.’’
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