IF anyone has an insight into the mindset of Barcelona, the way that the Catalan giants play, the philosophy of the club, their culture, it is Pedro Rodriguez.
The little Chelsea forward spent 10 years at the Nou Camp alongside legends like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, he grew up playing the “Barca” way and he learned his trade at the Spanish giants.
As Chelsea tonight prepare for the formidable Champions League task of taking on a Barcelona side, who on Saturday made it a record-equalling 31 La Liga games without defeat and lead the table by 10 points, Pedro insisted that it is them who are still haunted by memories of previous failures against the west London club.
He believes it is not impossible to tame the Catalans – and that they should not be feared – and he is glad he is now part of a Chelsea team which were always “horrible” opponents.
Pedro played in the classic Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea at the Nou Camp in April 2012 which saw Roberto Di Matteo’s team a goal up from the first leg, go a man down after John Terry’s sending off, but somehow grind out a famous backs to the wall 2-2 draw from two goals down with a heroic defensive performance, to make it to the final, where they beat Bayern Munich.
Pedro, 30, who scored 99 goals in 321 games for Barcelona and will be facing his old club for the first time since leaving, believes that Barca are still scarred by that traumatic tie, where they had 72 per cent of possession but still could not win.
“Chelsea were always horrible opponents,” said Pedro, who moved to Stamford Bridge in 2015 in a £19 million deal. “They were difficult – compact, strong in defence, pressed very well. We always found it difficult against them.
“It was frustrating that night. The memory stays with me even now. We controlled the game and scored the first goal, but then Messi missed a penalty and Fernando Torres scored with the last touch. The Barcelona players will be thinking this tie is going to be very tough, because Chelsea are strong, never easy to play against.”
Amazingly, Messi has never scored against Chelsea in eight meetings between 2006 and 2012. Can Chelsea stop him again? Pedro said: “It’s difficult, he’s the best player in the world. But he’s not invincible.
“If the team are focused on fighting together, you never know. We’ll have possibilities but, it’s Barcelona, it’s Leo Messi.
“”You can learn from a player like Messi. You try and take on his movement and skills. But he’s on another level. It’s very difficult to copy him. For him, it’s instinctive and he’s unique. To have played with him is something to tell my sons.
“It’s very difficult to stop this guy because he’s very quick, very clever. But it’s not impossible.”
This tie is crucial for Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, whose whole future may hinge on this next spell in their season. After this first leg of this last 16 clash, Chelsea travel to Manchester United and then league leaders Manchester City, face Crystal Palace before the return at the Nou Camp.
The Italian, who has had a running battle with his board over transfers all season, is set to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the campaign but if results go seriously against him over this spell, Blues owner Roman Abramovich’s patience could snap earlier.
Cesc Fabregas is another former Barca hero who will be trying to unhinge his former club but Pedro warned: “Barcelona are at the same level as they always were. Neymar has moved on but the style has not changed. They play the same way, trying to attack and move the ball quickly.”
Pedro won 20 major trophies at the Nou Camp after joining the club at 17, including three Champions League glories.
He said: “It was an incredible time with a special team. They’re one of the biggest teams in the world. It’s unbelievable playing with players like that. They’re so good. Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto’o. I learned so much from them.”
Unlike in 2012, there is no Terry or Frank Lampard holding the line for Chelsea, and Pedro is convinced there is still enough backbone to pull off another shock by ensuring one thing must not happen. “If you start with fear, that hands it to them,” he said.