If there would be one team that Chelsea would have liked to avoid in the first knockout phase of the Champions League, then surely it had to be Barcelona. But that is what actually happened. They have paid the price for finishing second in the group stages. Now that cannot be overturned though, and Chelsea must be calculating their chances of making it to the next phase. Of course Barcelona are favourites to go through, but on a given night in the Champions League, anything can happen. It will be all about using the right tactics at the right time; weather to park the bus, or go all out attack.
One thing for sure is that Chelsea will have to make full use of the home advantage. Grabbing anything from the Camp Nou will be a difficult task. So the most important job for Chelsea will be to find the early goal. Then it will be all about containing the source, ‘Lionel Messi’. Once that is done, it will mean fifty percent of the job done. If Messi is stopped, the supply to Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele will automatically come down. Suarez hasn’t been in his usual form this season, and Dembele has just returned from injury. So that should an advantage to Chelsea. The last quarter of the match will also be very important as both team will look to take advantages of each other’s tiredness. This is where Chelsea should look to capitalise. This season’s Barcelona is not the Barcelona we have been seeing since the past few years. Yes they are leading the charts in La Liga, but what they lack is game changers on the bench. So if Chelsea get off to a good start, and keep Messi quiet, they can fancy their chances.
Now coming to breaking up the Barcelona defence, there is a weakness in the teams and that is the right flank. Although they have the likes of Sergi Roberto, Aleix Vidal and Nelson Semedo, they have not functioned as well as the others have. So Chelsea will need to constantly try to exploit from the left. High pressing will be key as well.
The 3-5-2 has yielded better results for Chelsea than the 3-4-3. With Antonio Conte confirming the absence of Tiemoune Bakayako, Kante along with Fabregas will be the key at the heart of the midfield. The forward line will have to track deep into the Barca half to start counter attacks. Although it is physically demanding, that will be a must for Chelsea.
With tough fixtures coming up, the difficult schedule is likely to take a toll on Antonio Conte’s men, but the right move at the right time can get them a positive result.