Chelsea travel to the Nou Camp for the second-leg of their Champions League tie against FC Barcelona on Wednesday and they face an uphill battle to reach the quarter-final stage. Two weeks ago, they competed well at home and came close to picking up a precious first-leg lead, but a late goal from Lionel Messi denied them. The Blues are not in the best form and will go into the match as huge outsiders, but they have beaten the odds before and will try to pose problems for Los Cules in Spain.
The La Liga side can go full throttle in the Champions League as they have put themselves in a dominant position in the league with an eight-point lead over Atletico Madrid. They have yet to lose in the league under Ernesto Valverde and will have a sense of invincibility in Europe as a result. That confidence can be a positive thing, but it can also be self-destructive, and it is important that Chelsea take advantage of any error made by Barcelona.
It is becoming increasingly likely that this is going to be a season of failure for Chelsea and Antonio Conte. The Italian had a near-perfect first season in England, but a combination of bad recruitment and an increased schedule means that he hasn’t been able to replicate that success. The Champions League has always been a competition that he has struggled to have an impact in. He will want to correct that record and will go into this match with every intention of making the next round. It isn’t impossible, but his team will need to deliver their best performance of the campaign so far. There isn’t any room for error.
The home side are hoping to welcome Andres Iniesta back to the team after a hamstring injury. Sergi Samper, Nelson Semedo and Denis Suarez are all out with injury, while Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied.
Antonio Rudiger could be available after missing the win over Crystal Palace. David Luiz and Ross Barkley will both miss the trip to the Nou Camp. Despite starting without a striker in the home leg, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud will both be pushing to start in Spain.
- Barcelona have only conceded in two of their last ten matches at home across all competitions. Chelsea have to score to stand a chance and that record shows how difficult it could be for the Blues.
- Chelsea have drawn their last four matches at the Nou Camp and three of those were score draws. A similar result on Wednesday will be enough to progress.
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Lionel Messi. The Argentine is one of the best players in the history of the game and 2018 has the potential to be his best year yet. Barcelona are in a strong position to win La Liga, but that will only whet the appetite of the forward. He hasn’t won the Champions League since 2015 and Real Madrid have won it twice since then, which has led to Cristiano Ronaldo sweeping up all the individual awards. They won’t matter as much to Messi, but he remains very competitive and will want to win the competition for a fifth time, then follow it up with his first ever World Cup. This could be a legacy-defining year for Messi and a match-winning performance to get his team to the next round on Wednesday would provide a good start. He scored his first ever goal against Chelsea in the first leg and will be confident of adding to that at the Nou Camp.
Chelsea will know that they need a near-perfect display to reach the next round of the competition and the midfield battle will be crucial. N’Golo Kante returned from a knock to start against Crystal Palace at the weekend and it is a huge boost that he will be available for the second leg against Barcelona. After superb first two seasons in England, he has gone under the radar this campaign, but his energy and ball-winning ability will be important on Wednesday. Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic have the ability to dominate in central areas and cause a lot of problems for Chelsea. Meanwhile, Sergio Busquets often sets the tone from deep. The visitors need to disrupt Los Cules in midfield and Kante is the man to do that.
This is going to be an intriguing second-leg, as the result isn’t a foregone conclusion. Chelsea have a chance of progressing, but they will have to play positively and attack Barcelona. They can’t afford to sit as deep as they did against Manchester City as they were totally ineffectual across the pitch. Although they are unbeaten in the league, this isn’t a vintage Barcelona team. In the first-leg, Antonio Conte’s men showed that it was possible to control the pace of the game and cause problems for their back four. That said, the Blues have looked lifeless in big matches recently and it is difficult to see them performing to the level required. The hosts are likely to prevail to the next round.