Chelsea and Barcelona renew rivalry
After two seasons of controversial and confrontational meetings, Chelsea's Champions League clash with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday promises to be a more muted affair.
A sickening injury to Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who suffered a fractured skull during a Premier League match against Reading last Saturday, has taken the sting out of the pre-match hype.
Substitute Carlo Cudicini, who followed Cech to hospital after also being knocked out in the same match, was discharged a few hours later, and although he resumed light training yesterday he remains unlikely to face the defending champions.
Aside from the injury anxiety at Stamford Bridge, Wednesday's match is in the group stage rather than a do-or-die knockout so has less riding on it than in the previous two seasons.
Those were characterised by verbal clashes between managers Jose Mourinho and Frank Rijkaard, accusations of cheating and diving, red cards and high drama.
But they also included some sublime football from two of the best teams in Europe, Chelsea coming out top two seasons ago and Barcelona beating the English champions last March before lifting the title.
Portuguese third-string keeper Hilario, who has yet to don a first team shirt for Chelsea, will be grateful at least that his debut will not be against African footballer of the year Samuel Eto'o, who is injured.
Barca are not yet firing on all cylinders but they have still managed to open up a three-point gap at the top of the Primera Liga after a 3-1 victory over UEFA Cup winners Sevilla on Sunday.
Twice world player of the year Ronaldinho had been criticised for failing to pull his weight early in the season but the Brazilian looked to have returned to form at the perfect time with two first-half goals at the Nou Camp.
"If people criticise me it is because they know I can do better and that motivates me to keep working hard and improving," he said.
Despite the lost of Eto'o Barca still have plenty of fire power. Former Chelsea stalwart Eidur Gudjohnsen and Argentine striker Javier Saviola will compete for a place alongside Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi in attack, with French winger Ludovic Giuly also bidding for inclusion.
Right back Juliano Belletti is also out after dislocating his shoulder in the Sevilla game.
Chelsea lead Group A, which includes Werder Bremen and Levski Sofia with six points to Barcelona's four.