Chelsea host Barcelona in one of the most important matches of Antonio Conte’s managerial career. Champions League elimination and a couple of poor results in Premier League will most likely end Conte’s time at Chelsea. They are fourth in the Premier League and fighting for a top 4 finish.
On the other hand, the Catalan giants are unbeaten this campaign. Undeterred by the departure of Neymar, Ernesto Valverde’s side is playing some sublime football this season, helped by the arrival of Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele. They finished above Juventus in Group D to qualify for the knockout phase
Chelsea eliminated Barcelona from the Champions League when these two sides played against each other in the semifinals of 2011/12 competition. However, there is no Drogba, Lampard or John Terry this time around to save Chelsea and they face a herculean task to stop the Barcelona juggernaut.
On that note, let’s take a look at the reasons why Barcelona will destroy Chelsea.
5 Lone warrior Hazard finds no support from his teammates
In the last six Premier League games, Chelsea has scored only 10 goals and 6 of them came from the Belgian, Eden Hazard. Victor Moses scored 2 while Marcos Alonso and Willian scored one each.
It’s been quite a while since Alvaro Morata found the back of the net for Chelsea. After a brilliant start to his life at the Stamford Bridge, Alvaro Morata is struggling at the moment.
He last scored for Chelsea in December 2017 and in his last 15 appearances for Chelsea in all competitions, the Spaniard has scored only 4 goals. Giroud arrived from Arsenal last month but has made just one start for Chelsea so far.
The form of Pedro and Willian isn’t great either. Pedro has scored only 2 goals in his last 13 appearances for Chelsea while Willian has 2 from 10. If not for Eden Hazard’s brilliance, Chelsea’s season would have been a disaster. Hazard cannot single-handedly save Chelsea’s season and sooner or later, he needs some support from his teammates.
4 Barcelona attack too good for struggling Chelsea back line
Lionel Messi is in stunning form this season. The Argentine has scored 26 goals and assisted 11 more for Barcelona this campaign. Luis Suarez has hit his peak at the right time in the season after a subdued start. The Uruguayan has scored 13 goals in his last 13 games for Barcelona. The arrival of Philippe Coutinho and the return of Ousmane Dembele from injury will give a lot of options for Ernesto Valverde in the attack.
On the other hand, usually solid Antonio Conte’s defense is showing a lot of cracks. David Luiz is struggling while Antonio Ruediger does not look comfortable either. Cesar Azpilicueta is the only consistent performer for Conte at the back and Christensen is looking tired after making 30 appearances in all competitions for Chelsea this season. Gary Cahill was dropped to the bench against West Bromwich after a poor performance against Watford.
3 Antonio Conte not certain of his best 11
Recent poor results have left Antonio Conte wondering what his best starting XI is. He made a quite a few reinforcements to the squad during the January transfer window with Giroud, Barkley, and Emerson coming in.
Azpilicueta looks like the only confirmed candidate to start at the back. In the midfield, it is still uncertain on who will partner Kante. Fabregas played the last game while Bakayoko played the previous 2 games. Zappacosta may start on the right flank while Alonso or Moses may start on the left.
In the attack, expect Pedro to start alongside Hazard and either of Giroud or Morata. Giroud made his first Chelsea start last week but was taken off after an hour. Morata has the big game experience but Giroud’s ability to hold the ball may force Conte into thinking who his no.9 will be. As of now, even Conte may not know who will start against Barcelona next week.
2 Barcelona will win the midfield battle hands down
Winning the midfield battle holds the key to winning games in football. PSG showed it at the Parc des Princes last season when they defeated Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg of UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie. Adrien Rabiot, Blaise Matuidi, and Marco Verratti dominate the midfield, giving no chance for Andre Gomes, Andres Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets.
However, Barcelona midfield is not the same after the arrival of Ernesto Valverde. The arrival of Paulinho has given a new dimension to it. Ivan Rakitic is in good form while Sergio Busquets is also playing well.
On the other hand, Chelsea’s midfield is not dominating the games like they did last season. Kante is looking tired while Tiemoue Bakayoko isn’t great either. Danny Drinkwater has made only one appearance in 2018. With only 2 goals and 5 assists in 33 appearances, Cesc Fabregas too is having a mediocre season. All in all, Chelsea will find it hard to match the pace and precision of Barcelona’s midfield.
1 Current form
Barcelona have been absolutely brilliant under Ernesto Valverde
The Blaugrana are yet to lose a game this season whereas the Blues have lost 6 games in Premier League and once in Champions League so far. Barcelona go into the round of 16 fixture in a much better form than the Premier League giants.
Chelsea is struggling for consistency in recent weeks. They faced some heavy defeats at home and away to low lying Premier League opponents. They were beaten 3-0 by Bournemouth at the Stamford Bridge couple of weeks back and Watford thrashed them 4-1 at the Vicarage Road last week.
Though Barcelona is not playing their usual brand of attacking football like they did under Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, they are getting good results under Ernesto Valverde with a defensive approach. They are sitting pretty at the top of La Liga table with a seven-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid.