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.
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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
SO HERE it is – the world’s premier knockout football tournament has reached its crescendo with Italy’s Juventus facing off against Spain’s Barcelona for the privilege of call themselves the Kings of Europe.
As if winning Europe’s most prestigious tournament was not enough, both teams are also chasing the treble of titles in 2015, with Juventus and Barcelona winning their domestic league titles and their respective country’s knockout cup competitions.
Barcelona is searching for their fifth Champions League crown, while Juventus are chasing just their third European title and their first in 19 years.
This will be the first time the two sides have met in a Champions League final.
Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany
Saturday, June 6th, 8:45pm local time
Sunday, June 7th, 4:45am Australian Eastern Standard Time
Free to air: SBS – coverage begins at 4:15am Sunday, June 7th
Foxtel: ESPN – coverage begins at 4:00am Sunday, June 7th
Barcelona $1.61 with Sportsbet
Squads for Saturday
Buffon(GK) Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Barzagli, Evra, Marchisio, Pirlo, Pogba, Vidal, Tévez, Morata
Ter Stegen(GK) Alves, Piqué, Mascherano, Alba, Rakitić, Busquets, Iniesta, Messi, Suárez, Neymar
The X-Factor – who has the ability to change the game?
Junventus – Paul Pogba
When it comes to sheer ability and enigmatic brilliance it is hard to look past match-winning Frenchman Paul Pogba.
Pogba’s unrivalled athleticism, matched with fantastic goal sense and ability to play teammates into dangerous positions sets him apart, but his long range shooting is the main factor Barca will need to shut down, with the French prodigy scoring five goals from outside the box this season in Serie A.
Paul Pogba is $7 with Sportsbet to score at any time during regulation in the UEFA Champions League final.
Barcelona – Lionel Messi
Would you expect anyone different?
The Argentinian mastermind has been pivotal in his side’s rise to this year’s final, either scoring or playing a decisive role in every game for Barca since the knockout stage.
Along with this, Messi has scored in the previous two Champions League finals he has played in, if he is able to score a third in Berlin, he will be the first man ever to find the net in three separate Champions League finals.
Boasting a great turn of speed, quick feet, wonderful ball control and the ability to shoot from almost any position on the pitch, Messi is almost an impossible task to oppose.
Juventus just have to hope the great one has an off night.
Lionel Messi is $4.50 with William Hill to score the first goal of the UEFA Champions League Final.
First goal scorer – who can hit the back of the net first?
One thing neither team lack is creativity and goal scoring ability in the front third of the pitch, with world-class talent on both sides of the park.
Barcelona’s main strike force of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have had no problem scoring goals across all competitions this season, with the troublesome trio combining for a staggering 120 goals – the most by any Spanish front three in history.
It is hard to predict just who of the three will strike first for the Spanish champions, but with his eagerness to impress, particularly after making it clear he left Liverpool in search of a Champion’s League title, Luis Suarez is the man that looks most likely, with the Uruguayan international paying $6 with Bet365 to score the opener in Berlin.
When it comes to Juventus there is one man and one man only who stands out the most up front, the infamous Carlos Tevez.
Tevez has been a brilliant acquisition for the Italian champs since crossing from English rivals Manchester City two years ago and has been instrumental in his team’s rise from European has-beens to genuine Champions League title contenders.
The Argentine loves a goal like no other and is one of the most ruthless finishers in front of goal currently on earth. Carlos Tevez is paying $9 to open the scoring in Germany’s capital via Sportsbet.
This year’s Champions League Final looms as an absolute classic with two teams that possess attacking flair and a plethora of goal scoring options ready to put it all on the line to etch their name in footballing folklore.
Juventus had to do it the hard way coming in, defeating Real Madrid across two legs – which is arguably a more daunting task then the one-off final against Barcelona. They possess the defensive capabilities to stifle a team and force them into making mistakes.
One man Juventus will have to do it without is Giorio Chiellini, who has been sidelined with a calf injury. The Italian centre-back was set to mark Luis Suarez, the man that bit him in the 2014 World Cup finals.
Chilean superstar Arturo Vidal has been in stellar form for Juventus, and will pair off with Italian juggernaut Andrea Pirlo to provide the creativity that Carlos Tevez and Paul Pogba require to make an impact.
Vidal is Juventus’ designated penalty taker, which means he is always in the frame for a goal if a penalty is awarded. Vidal is at $7 to score at any time in regulation with Sportsbet.
Barcelona has multiple avenues to goal and a myriad many players capable of winning the game singlehandedly.
The much lauded big-three for Barca; Messi, Neymar and Suarez’s quality is already known, but once you think you have done the job quelling those three, up steps Andres Iniesta whose skill in finding the net after surging forward from a midfield position is legendary.
The $10 quote via Sportsbet for Iniesta to find the back of the net in the final is enticing given the occasion and the imprint the Barcelona captain will want to have on the game.
In the end Barcelona’s unrivalled goal scoring power should prove far too much for a brave Juventus team, who have too many options across the pitch that are capable of finding the back of the net.
Barcelona to win 3-1 at $15 via William Hill