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How Chelsea can stop Messi

The former Blues defender has been part of the rich recent history between the two clubs and explains how they stopped the legendary striker.

Lionel Messi may have 100 goals in UEFA club competitions, a joint-record five Ballons d’Or and 17 goals in 16 games against English teams, yet the Barcelona icon has never scored against Chelsea.

The record is surprising when you consider that he has managed to put four past Arsenal, a hat-trick against Manchester City and he has scored in two different finals versus Manchester United.

Chelsea have a number of defenders who have stopped Messi as he registered 29 shots across his eight games against the west London club, including a penalty miss in 2012 when they last faced each other in the Champions League.

John Terry, Ashley Cole, Ricardo Carvalho, Alex, Branislav Ivanovic, Gary Cahill, Jose Bosingwa, Paulo Ferreira, William Gallas and Khalid Boulahrouz all competed against Messi and stopped him alongside the other superstar attackers Barca have paired him with.

Boulahrouz faced Messi when the Argentine was just 18 years old and described how his side managed to win and draw tgames against their European rivals.

“We knew Messi was a great player during, after and before the game but our only thought was to take him and others out of the game,” the former defender said. “That’s normal. We did still get a good feeling [that he was a special player] but our job was to stop him. We respected all their forwards but we knew we could do our jobs against them.

“We had fantastic players on the pitch who could deliver. We knew each other’s strengths, that’s the ability that we had [to compete with a team like Barcelona]. We respect the qualities of the opponent but once you enter the pitch you have to think you have a chance. That was belief, that was Chelsea.

“We had Carvalho, he was aggressive and you always trust him. On the ground he was fantastic and he was strong in the tackle. John Terry, he is a legend. Everyone knows what he did on the pitch but in these moments you need a captain, he was a leader on and off the pitch. Everyone was following him.

“Ashley Cole was the best or one of the best left backs in the world. Attacking wise, he was very good. It was hard to get past him but he helped the team in attacks. The key was to trust each other and keep talking.

“We came up against Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and, of course, Lionel Messi but we thought actually that we were just as good as them. I was up against Ronaldinho. In the end we managed to keep a 1-0 against them but we defended solidly with no space between the lines, they couldn’t get in behind us.

“We had no doubts that Messi was a special player but Ronaldinho was the one who was winning the Balon d’Or at the time. It felt like with Messi, Eto’o and Ronaldinho that they had three attackers in their prime. Messi was young but still playing as if he was in his prime. They all handled the ball fantastically, from Xavi to Iniesta.

“They were all so dangerous when they were on the ball but that team were not so big. We were bigger. So one thing was for sure, they couldn’t be dangerous to us from free-kicks and corner kicks. That was one situation where they couldn’t score a goal. We had Didier Drogba, me, Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry and we were all great headers.

“For us, analysing their game, conceding a goal by corners or a free-kick was not an option. Their game plan was to play tiki taka. To be honest it is not easy, you have to constantly stay focused. That was the key, stay compact and attack together, defend together and close the space between the lines of the defence and midfield, otherwise they play their game.

“You’ve got to be really compact and win your duels. We got our goal in the end and all our players were playing to win, like we always did. We weren’t obsessed with Messi and the others. We defended really well in that game.

“I don’t think Barcelona are as strong as they were in that moment [in 2006]. If you compare the positions, they were much stronger in their individual qualities then. Eto’o was unbelievable, Messi was unbelievable, Ronaldinho was unbelievable. Xavi was one of the best in the world. They had a great goalkeeper. If you compare the team of now to that team, I think the team we faced was much stronger.”

Messi also faced Boulahrouz in the 2006 World Cup and again failed to score against his Netherlands side in a 0-0 Group C stalemate.

Boulahrouz retired from football two years ago and had only one active season at Chelsea, who he joined for £7 million and made 23 appearances. He plans to ultimately go back into coaching, but is currently enjoying a break away from the game.

The 36-year-old thinks this current Chelsea side have only one player that would have proved capable of getting into Jose Mourinho’s of 2006. He counts himself a huge fan of Eden Hazard but feels today’s group lack the same level of leadership that his had.

“Definitely Hazard [would get in our team],” he added. “He is one of the best. He is the key player and without him I think Chelsea are not as difficult to play against. Of course, they have other quality with their other forward players but Hazard can take the ball. He creates, he scores.

“He makes the other players more dangerous when he is in the team. That’s part of what makes him a fantastic player. If you compare Chelsea’s team now to back then, I think it misses some personalty. You had Lampard, Terry, Drogba and these players didn’t only play well in almost every game but they harass the opponent.

“We played a counter-attacking game but just their body language and appearance on the pitch affected teams. Terry and Lampard were such a part of Chelsea. Lampard had been there for a long-time and Terry came through the academy.

“They miss this feeling of the Chelsea family. They have Gary Cahill but he is not playing all the time. He is not an automatic starter. John Terry knew the culture, dressing room and how everything works at Chelsea. If new players come in it was good to have someone like that who helps.

“When I arrived it helped me to speak to John Terry. He could sort everything because he knew everything. The rules, club culture and he made things easy. Maybe the club haven’t quite got that anymore. It has become different [without him].”

Boulahrouz earned 35 caps for Netherlands and he was a popular figure at Hamburg prior to his move to England. He was nickamed Khalid der Kannibale by the HSV fans, which then stuck as he became known “the Cannibal.”

He admits he wasn’t the biggest fan of the nickname but had no regrets about the style of play that earned him the moniker.

“I was comfortable [with the way I played]. The only thing I may regret is not being harder in the tackle!” Boulahrouz continued.

“I think I was a nice guy off the pitch but when you enter you have to work. It was my job to stop players scoring goals and I had to use everything I had. It is not like I was a dirty player, giving elbows and stuff like that.

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