While the high-profile tie between Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain is tipped to steal the headlines, let’s not forget that there’s another exciting clash waiting to be witnessed in the Champions League. Chelsea and Barcelona will lock horns against each other on Wednesday at the Stamford Bridge.
Talking about the odds, the Catalans are being considered as the outright favourites to qualify for the quarter-finals. That is understandable, considering Chelsea’s recent struggles. However, underestimating them isn’t a mistake La Blaugrana can afford, considering the history they share with the English club.
Barcelona are unbeaten in the league although their performances haven’t been as convincing as in the past. They might have the upper hand over the Londoners in the current scenario, but there are a bunch of points that will help the Blues stay positive over the prospect of beating them.
That being said, let’s see four reasons why Antonio Conte’s men can pull off an upset in the round of 16.
4 History is in Chelsea’s favour
Chelsea have the psychological edge
History never really says goodbye, history says ,’See you later.’
They might be the better side at the moment, but Barca players need to understand the importance of this aforementioned quote by Eduardo Galeano. They will surely be walking down the memory lane of their miserable past in the tie.
In the last five games against Barcelona, Chelsea have won twice and drawn thrice. Barcelona have failed to win against them since March 2006, albeit they did trounce them on aggregate, eventually winning the competition that year. Chelsea’s stellar performance against the Spanish giants means they have a psychological edge over Ernesto Valverde’s men.
Even in the recent meetings in 2012, the Blues caused an upset with 10 men at the Nou Camp, not to mention a 1-0 shocker in the same edition at home.
They might not be having the best days of their life, but their history against Barca gives Conte’s men an undeniable right to stay optimistic prior to the fixture.
3 Barcelona’s away form
Barcelona’s away form has been alarming
Barcelona are almost impossible to beat when it comes to playing them at the Nou Camp. However, the story is far from the same when they play away from their home.
Let’s consider the club’s away form in the Champions League. Barca have won once and drawn twice in the three away games in the group stages.
Also, when it comes to playing big games as visitors this season, the Catalans haven’t been quite impressive. Since the start of the season, they have played Real Madrid, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Juventus away from home. In the 6 away games that they have played, Valverde’s men have won only twice, lost once and drawn thrice.
Barcelona’s intermittent away form should serve enough advantage for Chelsea to turn up optimistically for the clash.
2 Lionel Messi’s curse
Lionel Messi has failed to score in 8 games against Chelsea
The story of Lionel Messi’s curse against Chelsea is no secret to the football world. As good as he is against other sides, the Argentine maestro has failed to prove himself against Chelsea on multiple occasions.
In the eight games he has played against the Blues, the Blaugrana forward has failed to score even once from 29 attempts on goal! He also had his penalty denied by the woodwork back in April 2012; the miss proved fatal as Barca crashed out of the Champions League while Chelsea eventually won the competition.
Keeping Leo Messi quiet will be a challenge, but definitely not impossible for Antonio Conte. He has Gary Cahill and David Luiz in his ranks – the duo who successfully held him at bay in 2012. Certainly, he can count on his trusted defenders to do the same, can’t he?
1 Chelsea’s strong areas
Containing Eden Hazard will be a challenge for Barcelona
Chelsea have been under fire this season, but that doesn’t mean they cannot exploit Barcelona’s weaknesses. The Catalans have been weak in the air – exactly the area in which Chelsea have been top-notch this season.
Alvaro Morata might be off colour, but the Spaniard has been the second best in Premier League when it comes to converting aerial chances into goals. As of January, the striker has scored 6 goals from 19 headed attempts, notching a conversion rate of 31.6%.
Another factor that will seriously affect Barcelona’s chances are their weaknesses in the middle of the park. The Catalans fall behind Chelsea’s midfielders when it comes to creating chances. In La Liga, the trio of Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic have created 070, 0.78 and 1.05 chances per game respectively. In contrast, the duo of Kante and Fabregas have created 1.33 and 2.91 chances per game.
Containing Eden Hazard will also be a tough challenge for Pique and Co. in the game. The Belgian has been in superb form and will be a cause of concern for Valverde since he will be playing against Barca’s weaker right flank.
As they did against Manchester United, a high pressing game could help Chelsea in neutralizing Barcelona’s threat. The midfield battle will definitely hold a great deal of importance in the outcome of the clash.