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Defensive woes as Blues brace for Barcelona clash

CHELSEA will face the might of Barcelona, and the danger posed by Lionel Messi, without a recognized left back when the teams meet in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal later this month.

The Londoners, who advanced after an astonishing 4-4 home draw with Liverpool on Tuesday, will be without England's Ashley Cole after his 65th-minute booking for a push on Alvaro Arbeloa means he is suspended for the game at the Nou Camp on April 28.

Although Chelsea will have captain John Terry back after he was banned on Tuesday, interim coach Guus Hiddink said Cole's absence was concerning.

"It's true, the situation at left back might cause us some problems but we have time to resolve it," Hiddink told reporters.

"Barcelona have very skilful players. They know how to handle the pace and I like their philosophy of football.

"They sign players who are attractive to watch. They like to play advanced attacking football and it is difficult to play them because they are a top side."

The left back situation has arisen because Chelsea sold deputy Wayne Bridge to Manchester City in January and the versatile Paulo Ferreira, who can also play in that role, is out with a knee ligament injury.

It does not help that Argentine dangerman Messi, who normally plays on the right, is the top scorer in the Champions League this season with eight goals.

Tuesday's 7-5 aggregate win kept Chelsea in the chase for three trophies, the English Premier League, the FA Cup and the ultimate prize, the European Cup it came so close to winning last May when it lost to Manchester United in a penalty shootout in the final in Moscow.

Hiddink's team has little time to rest, with an FA Cup semifinal against London rival Arsenal coming up at Wembley on Saturday.

The Dutch coach also faces another problem, helping goalkeeper Petr Cech rediscover his confidence after an unconvincing display against Liverpool. Cech was at fault for the first goal when Fabio Aurelio exploited a huge gap he left at the near post to score direct from a free kick.

Although he could not do much about the other three, his handling was poor and his reputation as the world's best goalkeeper is under considerable scrutiny.

It was one of the most remarkable European ties played especially as Liverpool, without injured skipper Steven Gerrard, trailed 1-3 from the first leg at Anfield and needed to score three goals at Stamford Bridge to have any chance of victory.

The visitors went 2-0 up, leveling 3-3 on aggregate, thanks to Aurelio's free kick and Xabi Alonso's 28th-minute penalty.

Didier Drogba (51), Alex (57), with a stunning free kick, and Frank Lampard (76) then put Chelsea 3-2 ahead on the night.

Stunning free kick

Liverpool battled back with a deflected shot from Lucas and a header by Dirk Kuyt to reduce its aggregate arrears to 6-5 with seven minutes to play. Another strike for the visitors and they would have won on away goals but Lampard netted again after 89 minutes to finally kill off Liverpool's dream of an improbable fightback.

Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez said his team would now focus its efforts on trying to become domestic league champion for the first time since 1990.

"We are disappointed because to score four goals away in this game was unbelievable," said Benitez. "It's a pity. We played a very good game."

In Munich, Barcelona eased into the semifinals with a 1-1 draw with Bayern Munich which completed a crushing 5-1 aggregate victory.

Bayern playmaker Franck Ribery grabbed the lead just after the break to restore German pride after it was demolished 4-0 in the first leg but midfielder Seydou Keita leveled in the 73rd with a long-range effort.


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