Wednesday, March 14 – 8:45p.m Local time – Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain.
It was doom and gloom for Chelsea after two successive losses in the Premier League on their travels to Manchester, but Antonio Conte was unflinching in the face of defeat as he inspired his side to a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace at Stamford Bridge during the weekend.
In-form Willian put the hosts ahead before Martin Kelly’s own goal handicapped his side with two goals to make up at the break. Patrick van Aanholt pulled one back for Palace in the first minute of injury time, but a Chelsea side eager to impress ahead of a pivotal Champions League week, held on for the win.
The Blues now travel to Spain on Wednesday to face a lavishly talented Barcelona side in the Champions League round of 16; one of two matches within a week that could, in the main, determine Antonio Conte’s fate at the club, less than two years after taking over the instruments of power at the Bridge.
The Italian has taken a measure of flak for some less-than-convincing performances, and deservedly so, after being drubbed at home against Bournemouth in January, and on the road against Watford at the very start of the following month.
The defeats proved deleterious to Chelsea’s reputation not just as the defending champions but also as one of the most highly rated teams in the land; two defeats on the trot against Manchester United and Manchester City leaving their top four qualification ambitions second to nothing.
Nonetheless, a lot could change in the eight remaining games before the curtain closes on the current Premier League campaign, more so if Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool slump on their trips to Chelsea before the close of the season; if being the operative word.
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For now though, the Londoners have their hands full with a daunting task against Ernesto Valverde’s side. The two sides played out a 1-1 draw during the first leg, but it was Chelsea who put up a barnstorming performance despite conceding an away goal.
The Blues made their home presence count by instigating waves after waves of attack at the Barcelona end, eventually reaping the luscious fruits for their troubles when Willian rewarded them the lead in the 62nd minute.
The Brazilian however passed up two good chances to potentially put the tie to rest, missed chances which he came to rue after Lionel Messi not only kept the tie alive, but positioned his side on the inside track with a crucial away goal fifteen minutes before the final whistle.
The visitors barely threatened before the goal; much due to Chelsea’s inordinate work rate around Barcelona’s danger men, but it their patience and famous passing carousel that will yet again give Antonio Conte more sleepless night.
The Blaugrana have little or no chink in their armor, which is why they will look to tear Chelsea apart from limb to limb with their sheer metronomic technical ability on the ball, a commonality they have perfected over the years.
The La Liga log itself is a telltale sign of their dominance in the Spanish top flight, as Barca lead the table on 72 points after a routine 2-0 win over Malaga on Saturday, courtesy of two first half goals by Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho. The Catalunya side is eight points above second placed Atletico Madrid and a distant 15 points aloft of Real Madrid in third.
Chelsea on the other hand are fifth on the standings with an incredible 25 points adrift of champions elect Manchester City, and four behind fourth placed Liverpool.
It doesn’t help Chelsea’s cause that Lionel Messi will slot back into the starting eleven after being exempted from the squad over the weekend, having attended the birth of his third son.
Philippe Coutinho won’t feature having been cup-tied with Liverpool while defender Nelson Semedo remains on the sidelines with a hamstring injury.
David Luiz, who could be eyeing a move away from the club in the summer, is sidelined with an ankle injury, even as Ross Barkley continues his recuperation from a hamstring strain.
Lionel Messi Champions League odds and specials
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Lionel Messi put Barcelona on the cusp of qualifying for the quarter-finals when he ended the longstanding voodoo by netting his very first goal in nine Champions League matches against Chelsea.
The goal was a feather in the cap for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner; one that will only whet his appetite in front of goal ahead of the delectable encounter.
Chelsea vs. Barcelona match prediction
It will be a sink or swim, winner takes all encounter when these former European champions scrap for one of the two remaining places in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Failing to protect the lead for their trip to the Camp Nou, more so through a defensive howler, was a massive let off for the Blues. As such, Chelsea face the grim reality of falling by the wayside in their quest for a European title against a stronger, well refined Barcelona side beaming with confidence.
- Barcelona to qualify – -454.55 on William Hill
- Barcelona to win within 90 minutes – -227.27 on William Hill
Barcelona vs. Chelsea recent results
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE LAST-16
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona (February 20, 2018)
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