17 April 2012

Chelsea play with fear and lack courage, claims Barcelona's Dani Alves

Full-back stirs memories of 2009 Champions League semi-final
Chelsea and Barcelona meet again in last four of competition
Sid Lowe interviews Dani Alves

The Barcelona defender Dani Alves has risked opening old wounds before tomorrow's Champions League semi-final first leg with Chelsea after claiming the Catalans' controversial victory over the Blues three years ago owed less to the performance of the referee, Tom Henning Ovrebo, and more to the Premier League team lacking courage, being gripped by fear and playing long-ball football.

Barça return to Stamford Bridge to confront a Chelsea team still heavily reliant on the key figures of that 1-1 semi-final draw in May 2009. Twelve of the 18 players in the London club's match day squad then overseen by Guus Hiddink, and beaten on away goals that night, remain at the club and will be eager to exact revenge on the reigning European champions.

Memories of Ovrebo's erratic performance still linger, the Norwegian official having turned down four plausible penalty appeals from Chelsea. Yet Alves, in an interview with the Guardian, said Barcelona's progress – secured courtesy of Andrés Iniesta's stoppage-time equaliser once the visitors had been reduced to 10 men – owed more to Chelsea's failings. "There is no doubt that was the hardest game we have played, with everything that was at stake, the moment and everything that happened," Alves said. "People say Chelsea could have won but for the referee but that is not our problem. We do not control the referees. We are there to play football, to compete and to try to reach the final. What can we do about the referee?

"Chelsea did not reach the final because of fear. The team that has got a man more, is playing at home and winning should have attacked us more. But of course, if you don't have that [attacking] concept of football that Barcelona have, you stay back and you get knocked out. You have to go forward. Stay back: losers. Go forward: winners. I think Chelsea lacked the courage to take a step forward and attack us. They paid for it."

Alves admitted Barcelona's players were surprised Chelsea had not played with more attacking ambition after Eric Abidal's dismissal and that they drew encouragement from their hosts' approach. "At that moment we realised they had renounced the game," he said. "We realised that at 1-0 they were satisfied but they forgot that at 1-1 we were through and that is what happened. All they did is get the ball and get rid of it. Ball here, hit it long; ball there, hit it long! They never took that step forward. In other words they gifted us possession. And the worst thing you can do with Barcelona is give them possession."

Full: www.guardian.co.uk