Lampard ready for toughest test against BarcaAgence France-Presse . London
Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard admits finding a way to beat Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals will be the toughest challenge of his career.
Lampard has locked horns with Barca on several occasions and has come up against many of Europe’s other top teams throughout his career, but he believes the Spaniards’ current star-studded line-up will be the finest he has ever faced.
Most pundits make Pep Guardiola’s team favourites to advance to the final in Munich and even Lampard can see why after spending many hours admiring the skills of Barca stars like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
Chelsea warmed up for Wednesday’s first leg against the European champions at Stamford Bridge with a 5-1 demolition of Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley, but Lampard admits that is unlikely to have caused any sleepless nights for a team of Barca’s quality.
‘I understand people saying we are underdogs because everyone has this feeling with Barcelona that they can roll over anyone. Of course, with the players they have like (Lionel) Messi, they can do that,’ Lampard said.
‘Barcelona won’t underestimate us but beating Tottenham is not a warning to them. They have proved the team they are.
‘It is probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced. There aren’t many teams you would fancy against Barcelona over two legs in a semi-final.
‘They have showed that over the last few years. It is a huge challenge and if we win it would be one of the biggest victories.’
With Argentine forward Messi enjoying one of the greatest individual seasons in the history of the game, it is clear who poses the biggest threat to Chelsea’s dreams of a second Champions League final appearance.
And Lampard claims Messi has surpassed even his fellow Argentine Diego Maradona as the best player of all-time.
‘He has improved since we played them in 2009 and he was a fantastic player then. The levels he has taken his game to is something I have never seen before,’ Lampard said.
‘I grew up on Maradona. He was my idol and I think Messi has taken it to higher levels than him.
‘To get close to 70 goals is crazy. He deserves it. He is the best player in the world.’
But despite his praise for Barca’s stars and their stylish play, Lampard says Chelsea’s recent revival under interim coach Roberto Di Matteo has provided them with belief that they can trouble the Spanish champions.
‘If we play the way we did today with the ability we have in the team we have to believe we have a chance,’ Lampard said.
‘We are in the Champions League semi-final on merit. We can’t show too much fear against them. We have to respect them but also take them on and play the way we play.
‘When I watch Barcelona I expect them to win but you have to believe in yourselves. We have given them tough games in the past and we are ready to try to do that again.’
Lampard also insists there is no extra motivation from the 2009 semi-final defeat against Barca, which featured a series of rejected Chelsea penalty appeals before Iniesta struck late on to seal an away goals win.
‘That’s not really in our thoughts,’ Lampard said. ‘They have moved on from three years ago and we have changed as well.’
Lampard and his team-mates have only two days to recover before Barca arrive at the Bridge, but the 33-year-old England star is confident they will have no problems recovering in time because the ruthless rout of Spurs was such a morale boost.
‘I think it was a nice symbol of Chelsea at our best and what people know we are about,’ Lampard said.
‘We were strong all over the pitch after a tough first half. The second half was as well as we have played all season.
‘We have a strong squad and we all live right these days.
‘If you can’t get your body and mind fresh for Barcelona, I don’t know when you can do. I’m not going to ask to be rested that’s for sure!’
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