The rhetoric and the trumpeted message from Conte has been about playing a perfect game and suffering. Suffer they will at Camp Nou if he sets up his team as negatively as he did against Manchester City. What he needs is an absolute miracle to qualify for the quarterfinals.
In 13 meetings between the two sides, Barcelona have won three with Chelsea boasting four triumphs with the last clear victory in these head-to-heads going for Chelsea in 2014 1-0 at Stamford Bridge.
Conte said his side almost played the perfect game in the first leg as Barcelona escaped with a 1-1 result and Willian said the same at the pre-match press conference but in this return leg, Conte has warned his forwards that they will have to suffer with the rest of the team against a great team like Barcelona.
Whether they suffer or dish out the suffering would be hinged on these questions – first, would Conte give in to Eden Hazard’s pleas to not be a false No.9? And will it be Olivier Giroud, who did so well against Crystal Palace who will start in place of an uncertain Alvaro Morata?
For Ernesto Valverde, it is very simple. Lionel Messi starts behind Luis Suarez with Ousmane Dembele who was fantastic against Malaga, and Andres Iniesta starting wide left and right. He revealed at his press conference that small details might come into play on Wednesday. “The small details can end up deciding the game. That’s what happens when you have such great players out on the field”
Current Form: Barcelona [W-W-W-D-W]; Chelsea [W-L-L-D-W]
Head to head
20/02/18 UCL Chelsea 1 – 1 Barcelona
29/07/15 ICC Chelsea 2 – 2 Barcelona
24/04/12 UCL Barcelona 2 – 2 Chelsea
18/04/12 UCL Chelsea 1 – 0 Barcelona
06/05/09 UCL Chelsea 1 – 1 Barcelona
Conte paid Iniesta glowing commendations in the pre-match press conference, referring to the Spaniard as a genius. “Andres Iniesta is a genius of football who I like to compare with Andrea Pirlo. I don’t know whether Iniesta can play tomorrow but this type of game requires the best players – I do not hope he’s injured and misses out.”
He then compared the Spaniard with Hazard, who has been shackled by playing as the foremost striker in recent matches. “Iniesta has won a lot in his career. Hazard has to start to win important trophies in his career,” Conte posited.
A 1-1 will bring extra-time, while a higher-scoring draw takes the Blues through. Unlikely as it seems, a 0-0 draw takes Barcelona into the last eight. The Catalans will qualify for an eighth straight quarter-final appearance if they win while the Blues can make it 14 quarterfinal appearances in the last 16 seasons. The match kicks off at 8:45pm [Nigeria time] and the centre referee is Jure Praprotnik from Slovenia.
Words before the War
“Depending on how the game goes, one of the two teams will have to take more risks. I expect an opponent similar to the first leg; with all of the same virtues and all of the same danger they created up there. They can score at any moment.” – Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona manager
“There may be times that we suffer, but we have to stay compact and when you have the ball you must have the belief in your head and heart that you can score. We have to stay in the game, but it won’t be easy. If we want to go through to the next round we must invest in the game for every moment of it.” – Antonio Cone, Chelsea manager