Barcelona vs. Chelsea 2nd leg preview
Oh, how the tide has changed for these two sides over the past year. The Blaugrana were trailing their long-time rivals, Real Madrid while Chelsea were heading towards their fifth Premier League title. Fast-forward a year, Chelsea is seemingly in disarray, having lost the striker who steered them to the title, then replacing him with a younger, less proven version who’s failed to take up the mantle. Meanwhile, Barcelona has massively lightened their load after losing Neymar. The team now looks more functional, but are increasingly reliant on Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez, both of whom are over 30, while the talented Ousmane Dembele has struggled to live up to his huge transfer fee. it will definitely take time for him, especially as he was also out with a hamstring injury for four months.
1st leg report
As for this match now, Conte rediscovered his touch and put together a tactical masterclass as Willian showed what Chelsea have missed at times this season. The Brazilian was the standout performer with three superb strikes, the first two leaving Ter-Stegen stranded (but unfortunately hit the post). He finally got his reward with his third effort, which found the net and Chelsea looked destined to be taking a lead to the Nou Camp, a place where in all their years, have never won. The Brazilian, I believe is better than Eden Hazard, he’s been consistent during his time at Chelsea, remaining vastly underrated.
Concentration dropped just for two minutes and that's all it takes for Barcelona to hurt you. Lionel Messi finally broke his duck and scored for the first time in nine games against the Stamford Bridge club, and all Chelsea's good work was undone. Before the strike, the Catalans had been kept at arms-length in a tactical masterclass by the Italian, where chances were few and far between. Despite having 73% possession, the visitors could only muster seven shots to Chelsea’s eleven. However, their deadliness when a clear chance presented itself was everpresent.
2nd leg preview
Olivier Giroud could be to Conte what he is for Didier Deschamps: an important target man for the Blues. In the Nou Camp, possession will be a rarity for Chelsea and a tall, physical striker looks to be the basis from which they will build any attacks. With the performances of Willian, the lack of form shown by Alvaro Morata Morata, plus the importance Hazard has, it could be the Frenchman flanked by both speedsters in this game. The Italian has suggested that advice will be sought from his players.
Barcelona meanwhile will be roared on by a raucous crowd, expecting a victory. Barcelona may have no option but to play Andre Gomes in a midfield four. Alternatively, Ousmane Dembele could be deployed in a front three of himself, Messi and Suarez akin to the way the MSN combination was. This puts the reliance on the dynamism of Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets and surprise package, Paulinho. The midfield looks like the place where this game will be won or lost. If Chelsea go with three at the back, it could leave them outnumbered in the middle of the park and N'Golo Kante required to do the running of two as Fabregas lacks the pace and tactical awareness to be effective the way Nemanja Matic once was.
How will Conte set his side up? Will Giroud start? Who will win? I expect Barcelona to progress. But all these questions will surely be answered.