Chelsea need Hazard lights for tricky trip to Barcelona

Will Chelsea do to Barcelona what Juventus did to Tottenham Hotspur and reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League against the odds?


Eden Hazard is Chelsea's big hope Source: Getty Images

All eyes will be on Camp Nou this week for another instalment of what has become one of Europe's fiercest rivalries.

It will be a second confrontation in three weeks between two of the world's finest forwards: Barca's Lionel Messi of Argentina and Chelsea's Eden Hazard of Belgium who are both expected to star for their countries in the forthcoming FIFA World Cup.

In the first legs of the round of 16 Spurs came back from two goals down to snare a 2-2 draw with Juventus in Turin and were seen as warm favourites to get through.

But the return at Wembley did not pan out the right way for Mauricio Pochettino's men.

Spurs, with Christian Eriksen running the show and Harry Kane establishing himself as one of the world's most prolific scorers, have become a delightful team going forward .

However Spurs have shown this season that they are suspect at the back where they are often caught too square and wily Juve duly exploited this weakness to the full.

The Serie A champions played a perfect match to come back from a goal down to snare a 2-1 win that reinforced the belief that, for all their faults, top Italians teams are still masters at getting results when the chips are down.

Perhaps even more so than the super efficient Germans.

After what happened in London, who is to say that Antonio Conte's men cannot emulate the 'Bianconeri' and cause an even bigger upset by prevailing in Barcelona?

The first leg at Stamford Bridge ended 1-1 but the result rather flattered Barca because Chelsea were probably the better team on the night.

Conte did everything right and won the tactical battle with Ernesto Valverde and only a late strike by Messi deprived the Londoners of a deserved victory.

Conte realised that Chelsea would have a much better chance of limiting the supply to strikers Messi and Luis Suarez by keeping an eye on experienced duo Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, who are the font of nearly every Barca attack.

Barca's defensive midfielders were given little time on the ball to initiate the team's attacking patterns and were kept quiet all night. Barca's overall effectiveness was greatly reduced as a result.

Conte can be expected to employ the same tactics at Camp Nou and rely on the genius of Hazard and the speed of Willian to pinch a goal or two that would make Barca's job all that more difficult.
Chelsea will be buoyed by the outcome of the last time the two teams faced each other in the Champions League.

The Premier League side took a slender 1-0 lead to Barcelona in the 2011-2012 semi-finals and came back from two goals down on the night to draw 2-2 after Messi missed a penalty.

This return match has all the makings of a European classic and, make no mistake, it is still wide open even though Valverde's stellar team are slight favourites to go through.

Barca are a more conservative side under Valverde, who prefers a basic 4-4-2 system rather than his predecessor Luis Enrique's more adventurous 4-3-3 or 3-4-3.

They are flying in La Liga thanks largely to Messi, who is underlining his unofficial status as the world's best player by producing some of the finest football of his decorated career, scoring and making goals with ridiculous ease and regularity.

Conte knows that there is little one can do to stop Messi - who missed his side's 2-0 victory over Malaga this past weekend to attend the birth of his third son - especially when he is in one of his mesmerising moods.

Which is why he will probably opt for the next best thing: block his supply and hope for the best.

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4 min read
Published 12 March 2018 at 12:44pm
By Philip Micallef