Chelsea travel to the Nou Camp on Wednesday night as odds-on favourites to lose. It isn’t too surprising, considering the dismal form that the Blues have been in, in 2018. Their narrow 2-1 win at home against Crystal Palace on Saturday was only their 5th of the calendar year in all competitions, and winning against Barcelona to progress to the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals seems like a mammoth task.
They have though, defied the odds once before on this ground. In their fateful 2012 campaign, which culminated in John Terry & Co. lifting the coveted trophy, they travelled to Catalonia in the second leg of the semi-final with a 1-0 aggregate lead. With 40 minutes, captain Terry had been sent off, his centre-back partner Gary Cahill had been stretchered off injured, and Barcelona were 2-0 up. The result hardly looked in doubt, and the question seemed to be the number of goals Barca would put past Petr Cech.
Instead came an extraordinary turn of events, with Ramires latching on to an exceptional Frank Lampard through-ball and chipping Victor Valdes to give Chelsea the advantage on away goals. The second half saw Barcelona camped in and around the Blues’ box. Chelsea’s path to the final seemed to be written in the stars when Lionel Messi missed a penalty, and then hit the post. Pep Guardiola’s men were running out of ideas, and in the end, a hefty clearance from Ashley Cole saw Fernando Torres go clear on goal in second-half stoppage time. He rounded Valdes and coolly slotted in to make it 2-2.
The current Chelsea stars can draw huge inspiration from the group that did the impossible 6 years ago. Cesc Fabregas, who was in the Barcelona team that day, experienced the Blues’ tenacity first hand, and wants to play his part in stopping Messi, arguably the best player in the world. He said in an interview, “If I am lucky enough to play, it’s true that we are positioned in nearby areas of the pitch, stopping him will be difficult but I will try to do everything possible so that he feels uncomfortable and can’t put together a perfect performance.”
This could also be the Blues’ best shot of securing Champions League football next season. They are currently 5 points behind 4th-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League table, and winning the competition this year could be the only way they can qualify next year.
The first leg
Chelsea did a magnificent job of containing Barcelona in the first leg at Stamford Bridge. Messi and Luis Suarez hardly got a kick in the final third, as the Blues remained compact and organized. Antonio Conte chose to play Eden Hazard as a false 9, which meant that Chelsea themselves didn’t have too much of an outlet going forward. They struggled to hold on to the ball, but still arguably had the better chances throughout the game.
Willian, who was the man of the match for Chelsea, scored the opening goal just before the hour-mark. The Blues looked like they were headed for an unlikely victory, but one mistake from the usually-reliable Andreas Christensen let the Catalans in. The Dane played a cross-field ball across his own area, which Cesar Azpilicueta was unable to reach, and Andres Iniesta laid it on a plate for Messi to stroke home. This was the Argentine’s first goal against Chelsea in 9 attempts, and have Barcelona the advantage going into the second leg.
While Barcelona’s strategy will be the same as it always is (press high, and play possession football), it will be interesting to see how Conte approaches this one.
He has been guilty of giving the opposition too much respect recently, most notably against Manchester City. Chelsea hardly looked like they were even giving it a go that day, as Conte opted for a false 9 system and only brought on his strikers off the bench with less than 10 minutes to go.
If the Blues were holding a 1-0 lead, he might well have done the same again. But the Premier League champions need to score in this one, and having either Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata up front could be the smarter option.
Team news and predicted line-ups
For Barcelona, Messi will return to the starting line-up, after sitting out the weekend’s 2-0 win over Malaga for the birth of his child.
Andres Iniesta is a doubt with a hamstring problem, while Denis Suarez is certainly out, with a groin injury.
Predicted line-up (Barcelona): Ter Stegen; Roberto, Piqué, Umtiti, Alba; Paulinho, Rakitić, Busquets, Gomes; Messi, Suárez
On the other side, Chelsea have David Luiz and Ross Barkley out with knee and hamstring injuries respectively.
Defender Antonio Rudiger is also a doubt with a muscular issue.
Predicted line-up (Chelsea): Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Cahill; Moses, Fàbregas, Kanté, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Pedro
Chelsea could get glimpses of hope here and there and may even take the lead in this game, but Barcelona should be too strong for them in the end.
Barcelona 3-1 Chelsea
Marry is a content writer and a digital marketing expert and has a lot of patience to write sports industry. This article is written on behalf of by Boxofficeevents.com, which is an official hub of cheap football tickets in UK.