Chelsea went out of the Champions League on Wednesday as they lost to Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The 3-0 score-line was perhaps unfair on the Premier League champions, but it underlined the difference in quality between the two sides. The Blues managed to get into promising positions throughout the match and managed to have more attempts than their hosts. They managed 14 shots on goal, while they only conceded eight. However, their final ball was lacking, as they regularly wasted good opportunities to score. Meanwhile, Los Cules were clinical with Lionel Messi at his influential best.
It was always going to be a difficult task for Chelsea considering their recent form in the Premier League and losing an early goal didn’t help. Thibaut Courtois is regularly talked about as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe, but he was one of the worst performers on Wednesday. The Belgian could have done better for the first and third goals, as he was twice beaten through his legs by Messi. The first in particular was poor as the Argentine had a tight angle to shoot from, but he still managed to beat the goalkeeper at his near post. In the second-half, the Belgian keeper nearly gifted Barcelona another goal, when he coughed up possession to Luis Suarez and had to make a stop to spare his blushes.
The main problem in attack for Chelsea was the poor final ball. Eden Hazard and Willian both carried a threat with their direct approach in transition completing ten dribbles between, but they couldn’t create the opening that the team needed. That was a fault of the whole team, as the movement in the final third was predictable at best. Marcos Alonso attempted four shots, which was more than any other player on the pitch. The Spaniard has provided a goal threat since joining the club, but it isn’t great if he is your most productive attacker in a huge Champions League match such as this one.
Antonio Conte will know that 2018 hasn’t been good enough for his team as this was their sixth defeat in the last 11 matches across all competitions. The Champions League would have been a priority for the Italian at the beginning of the season as his track record in the competition is patchy, but to drop out at this stage will be regarded as a failure.
The focus now has to be on the Premier League and FA Cup. They could somewhat salvage their season with a top-four finish and an FA Cup triumph, but it would only be papering over the cracks. After a superb first campaign under Antonio Conte, Chelsea have gone backwards over the last nine months. This is due to poor tactical decisions, terrible recruitment and the improvement of their rivals. Manchester City are now a million miles ahead of them and the gap would have been inconceivable a year ago.
It will be interesting to see how this defeat affects the team for the rest of the season. Their performance levels certainly increased during the two matches against Barcelona and it may be that there is little motivation for the domestic campaign within the squad and coaching staff. Conte is unlikely to be the manager of the club at the start of next season, which is a worry for Chelsea, as he may not care about finishing in the Champions League places. They are currently four points behind Liverpool with little room for error.
If the squad can’t pull together and pick up the majority of points that are available to them, they won’t be in the competition next season and that will provide them with another setback, both on and off the pitch. Their run-in looks kind as they only have to face two top-six rivals, both at home, but they need to improve to get the results required.