Champions League Last 16 Preview – Chelsea vs Barcelona

Chelsea welcome Barcelona to Stamford Bridge tonight for a Champions League round of 16 first leg game. It’s an absolutely huge game, and I for one can’t wait for it. I don’t really know what way it will go to be honest, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chelsea get a result tonight.

Chelsea’s form has been a bit iffy lately, but they’ll be looking to turn it on tonight as they welcome one of Europe’s best sides to London. I don’t think anybody should be writing them off to be honest, because we could easily see an Antonio Conte masterclass tonight. We have seen him set his team up brilliantly before, and he’ll be hoping to get his tactics spot on tonight and hope his side can trouble Barcelona. They’re more than capable of doing that, but they’ll also have to hope Eden Hazard turns up at his best. The Belgian can make the difference in a game like tonight’s, and if he’s in the humour he can hurt any team.

I think it’ll be interesting to see how Conte sets his team up to be honest. We’ll more than likely see a flat three across the middle of the park, but who plays will be interesting. Tiemoue Bakayoko and Ross Barkley are both doubts for the game, so it could be Cesc Fabregas, N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater across the middle. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bakayoko risked though, as Conte may look to protect his back three and play an extra defensively minded player in the middle of the park. The extra protection would also allow Eden Hazard to roam freely in front of them, while Alvaro Morata is likely to spearhead the attack. Morata returned from injury on Friday night, so I’d say we’ll more than likely see him starting the game. If not, Olivier Giroud will be given the task of linking up with Hazard.

Antonio Conte said that he has had trouble sleeping because he has been thinking of every detail of this game. The Italian said: “This team is one of the best in the world – maybe they are favourites to win this competition.

“On the other hand we must be excited because we have a great opportunity to play a massive game against a really strong team and to show which is our level. We have to try to have the perfect game.

“In these days after the game in the FA Cup, I must be honest… it was a bit difficult to sleep well.

“When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare. You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too.”

Ross Barkley and Marcos Alonso have missed Chelsea’s recent games, but they trained on Monday so that’s positive for the Blues. Tiemoue Bakayoko and David Luiz weren’t involved.

We all know what Barcelona are all about, so there isn’t much point in me going into too much detail about them. They’re so strong in every area of the pitch, and they’d fancy themselves to win every game, whoever the opposition. They’re running away with the league in Spain, and currently sit seven points clear of Atletico in second, while they’re 17 points ahead of Real Madrid. They’re brilliant, as every Barcelona side is, but it doesn’t make them unbeatable. It’s going to be so hard to stop their attackers from scoring at least one goal tonight. Lionel Messi is obviously the man to be most wary of, but the Argentine has actually never scored against the Blues. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for Chelsea though, because he could be going out there with a point to prove. They’re one of the favourites to win the Champions League this season, but they’ll know tonight’s game won’t be easy. Chelsea may not have been brilliant of late, but if they can manage a performance like we saw from them for most of last season, Barcelona could find it difficult tonight.

Centre-back Thomas Vermaelen has traveled with the squad. Philippe Coutinho can’t play because he is cup-tied after playing for Liverpool in the group stages.

I think Barcelona are clear favourites for this one, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if they left London with a healthy lead under their belts. But I think anybody writing Chelsea off completely is mad. The Blues have a chance of getting a good result tonight. I think they’re going to have to be absolutely brilliant for that to happen, and they’ll more than likely have to put in a better performance that what we have seen from them all season, but they’re more than capable of pulling a result out of the bag. They’ll have to keep it tight at the back, they have to take any chance that comes their way. If Conte gets his tactics right tonight, we could see a defensive masterclass from the Blues. If they get a chance and take it, they could win this game. I’m sure Conte would bite your hand off for a 1-0 victory tonight, but I think they need to win the game either way. You don’t want to be going to the Nou Camp trailing, because if you have to chase a game over there you’ll be torn apart. It’s very important for them to get a positive result tonight, but as I said, it will be very difficult.

The game kicks off at 7:45pm, and I’ll definitely be watching this one. You can follow it with me on Twitter if you like. The team news and all the rest will also be up there tonight. Enjoy the game.

Sorry that the post isn’t perfect, but I wasn’t able to get it done this morning. A work lunch break isn’t ideal for writing, but I felt I had to get something up.

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