English Angle: Chelsea The Best Bet Of The Big Four To Win The Champions League

This weekend's action saw four more wins for for the Prem's finest and revealed why the Blues are the best bet to stop Barca winning in Rome, according to Goal.com's Sulmaan Ahmad...
Another routine dose of Premier League conformity saw a thrashing, two comebacks - one being closer than the other - and a whirlwind start followed by a capitulation that almost threatened the game's result, but didn't.

The big four all reached their destination, by one route or another, while the chasing duo squared off and shared three goals each; each giving their all and in doing so, essentially ruling themselves out of contention for Champions League football next season. Europa League, here they come.

Meanwhile, the frail-looking four turn their attentions back to the big time. Three of them undershot in the first leg and their collective dominance is now already under scrutiny. They barely got past their domestic opposition at the weekend - with the exception of the team who have the least hope in Europe - and with every passing day, Barcelona are looking more and more like potential winners.

But then, it's never that simple. As good as Barca might be, their chances of winning the trophy can never be greater than 50 per cent and when observing their hypothetical route to the final, it becomes increasingly obvious that if anybody is going to stop them, at this stage it looks far more likely than not that it will be a Prem side.

Looking towards Barcelona, from this weekend's action we can at least surmise that Liverpool don't rely on Steven Gerrard quite as much as people think they do. Both Javier Mascherano and Fernando Torres have become more key components in the setup - speaking from a strictly tactical perspective - and that every now and again, the Reds really can dominate a game.

It doesn't happen often and, unfortunately, it only seems to happen too late in the day, but what it did show is that if Liverpool make it past Chelsea, they have all the ingredients to be the most likely to eliminate Barcelona as well.

Their problem is that they're as good as out already. We all remember what happened in Istanbul, we all remember that Hiddink, in charge of Russia, lost by three clear goals twice to Spain at Euro 2008 and yes, we all remember the Blues shipping three at home against Bolton, because it was two days ago.

Three factors here are key:

1) This is a two-legged tie, unlike the 2005 Champions League final, and the time between each 'half' to reassess, reorganise, re-energise allows them to head out at Stamford Bridge with a Guus-crafted seventeen-prong gameplan allowing for every eventuality to ensure that, above all else, they do not lose the tie. They will not lose the tie.

2) On top of that, the gulf in class between Spain and Russia is far more discernible than that between Chelsea and Liverpool - that is to say if there is a gulf at all.

And 3) Yes, they did ship three in nine minutes against Bolton at the Bridge in their own little Istanbul moment, but they were already winning by four and had taken off their key players ahead of Tuesday's showdown. Liverpool not only need to score three but to win by two - and that will only get them extra time.

So based on the assumption that Chelsea and Barcelona do what they should do, they will square off in their first ever semi-final. This clash has become a classic, second only to Chelsea-Liverpool in recent years. But this time, there will be no Mourinho, Rijkaard or Ronaldinho. Both sides are mostly the same, but that little bit different.

If Barcelona make it to the final, it would take a brave man to bet against them winning it. They already monopolised possession and chances against Man United last year, and that was in the middle of a slump - just imagine what they could do now. Arsenal don't have the resilience they did in 2006, and while they would most likely have the added bonus of their goalkeeper not getting sent off in the early stages, this would be unlikely to affect the outcome when they face a team like their own, but stronger - literally, as well as in terms of the quality they possess.

What Fergie and Wenger's men lack is the midfield strength of the Blues - and that could be key to cutting through Barcelona and exposing their less than perfect defence.

There of course remains the small matter of fact that should the Blues even manage to overthrow Barca - not to say that they will, but they are the most likely - they will then have to contest a final. What makes them the favourites to win that?

They will certainly feel as though they have a score to settle after last year's heartbreak. Drogba in particular, will look to erase the memory of the one big game in which he has not only failed to perform but as good as sealed his side's exit with his late sending off. Guus Hiddink will be a man under no pressure whatsoever, much like Luis Aragones with Spain, knowing that he is already leaving. And lastly, the fact they will have just beaten Barcelona to get to Rome is bound to unearth an insecurity or two in the likes of United, Arsenal or even Porto, with Villarreal highly unlikely to make it to the semis with their injury and consistency afflictions, never mind the final.

We cannot underestimate the capabilities of Arsenal on their day, particularly as they now have fourth place sewn up in the league and are unlikely to care too greatly about the FA Cup. And United, of course, even when they look flimsy, can turn out a result like the best of them. It's Chelsea who are peaking at the right point to succeed in the pressure cooker environment of Champions League football.

What may motivate them most of all is that this really could be their last chance for a couple of years, as a new cycle beckons, with no Hiddink in the picture and it may - not will, but may - take time to get back here again.

Sulmaan Ahmad, Goal.com