Tuesday, February 20 – 7:45pm local time – Stamford Bridge, London
The Champions League has seemingly, if not assuredly, reached a crescendo with some mouthwatering clashes in the knockout stages.
Liverpool and Manchester City made gimmicks out of the round of 16 by obliterating their opponents without the slightest shred of remorse, while Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur gave good accounts of themselves.
The highlight of this week however sees Barcelona travel to Stamford Bridge for the first leg of the last 16.
The Blaugrana are already reaping the luscious fruits of a sparkling campaign in the La Liga, where they have established a seven point cushion over second place Atletico Madrid; a commanding 17-point lead over arch rivals Real Madrid who are languishing in fourth.
The appointment of Ernesto Valverde as manager of Barcelona during the last English summer was against the vacillating winds of public opinion, as his managerial acumen and experience did not match the expectation of a textbook Barca manager.
The 54-year old has however silenced the backlash midway through his maiden season at the Camp Nou, as Barcelona lead the La Liga charts, are into the Final of the Copa del Rey and are credible candidates in the Champions. This is nonetheless in stark contrast to their opposite number who is increasing looking like a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Chelsea, who were all flash and dazzle last season, have been reduced to a grim shadow of their former self in the current campaign. The brilliance of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City has the Blues abdicated from the helm of English football, and could face further punishment in the quest for a top four finish seeing as Spurs are unsettlingly breathing down their necks.
Crestfallen Antonio Conte will be left with little option but to field his strongest side against Barcelona, despite having a potentially season defining trip to Old Trafford on Monday.
Tiemoue Bakayoko’s participation remains uncertain but the Italian will unmistakably line up without the injured duo of Ross Barkley and David Luiz.
Barcelona on the other hand made the trip to London with a full strength side; the injured Thomas Vermaelen, the suspended Nelson Semedo and cup-tied Philippe Coutinho being the only notable absentees.
Barcelona vs. Chelsea match prediction
Chelsea grabbed Hull City by the scuff of the neck over the weekend as they thrashed them 4-0 in the fifth round of the FA Cup, a timely shot in the arm ahead of the midweek European encounter.
Barcelona registered a 2-0 win away to Eibar over the weekend to extend their unbeaten run to 24 games in the La Liga. The Blaugrana have yet to lose a single game in either the League or Champions League this season, which all the more makes Stamford Bridge an unlikely setting for defeat.
Prediction: Barcelona win +115 on William Hill
Barcelona vs. Chelsea recent results
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL
Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (April 24, 2012)
Sergio Busquets 35′
Andres Iniesta 44′
Fernando Torres 90′
Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona (April 18, 2012)
Didier Drogba 45′
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINAL
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona (May 6, 2009)
Michael Essien 9′
Andres Iniesta 90’+3
Barcelona 0-0 Chelsea (April 28, 2009)
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE GROUP STAGE
Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea (October 31, 2006)
Eidur Gudjohnsen 58′
Frank Lampard 52′
Didier Drogba 90’+2
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