Roberto Di Matteo has been praised for the work he has done since taking over as Chelsea's interim manager for the departed Andre Villas-Boas. Since taking over, the Blues have picked up some key wins, advanced to the FA Cup final and most importantly, he helped guide the team to the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.
Much of what Di Matteo has done has been off of the field. That's not to say that he hasn't done anything tactically -- where he has Chelsea playing a 4-2-3-1 with regularity -- but calming a dressing room that was unhappy with Villas-Boas was his immediate goal. It appears as if he has succeeded there, but now that he has a major match to play, against a Barcelona team that is heavily favored, he has some tough decisions to make on the pitch.
One of the toughest decisions for Di Matteo will be whether to play Daniel Sturridge or Salomon Kalou. On one hand, Kalou was much better than people gave him credit for in Sunday's FA Cup win, creating several chances and keeping Kyle Walker at bay for an hours. On the other hand, Sturridge is the more dangerous option on the counter-attack.
Everything considered, Di Matteo should go with Sturridge against Barcelona. There is major concern about how the 22-year-old will perform on a bigger stage than he has ever encountered before, but that needs to be overlooked.
Sturridge can be a menace on the counter and that is where Chelsea will have to do the bulk of their damage. His long, mazy runs and ability to put a retreating defense on its heels is too much for Di Matteo to overlook. Kalou is probably the safer option, but the Blues can't really go safe with this choice. They will almost assuredly play it safe elsewhere on the pitch, especially at the back, so in this position they need to take a chance.
Barcelona is likely to play Carles Puyol at left back, who will not be much of a threat going forward. There isn't much to lose going with Sturridge because even if he doesn't track back like Kalou, Chelsea won't need much tracking back on Puyol.
Banking on keeping Barcelona scoreless is not particularly smart, nor is it a good idea for Chelsea to play for the scoreless draw at home anyways. They are going to be tight at the back and their few chances will likely come via the counter-attack. That is where they need Sturridge, even if it means taking a chance and praying that the big stage doesn't swallow him whole.
We'll have continuous pre-game updates and live game coverage in our Chelsea vs. Barcelona, UEFA Champions League Semifinals StoryStream. For more on the two teams, head over to Chelsea FC blog We Ain't Got No History and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes.