Chelsea v Barcelona: A Champions League combined XI
Reigning Premier League champion Chelsea will play host to Catalan giant Barcelona in the two clubs' first competitive contest since that unforgettable 2-2 draw at Camp Nou in 2012. John Terry was sent off but the Blues held on for a 3-2 Champions League semifinal aggregate win. The Blues went on to lift their first and only Champions League trophy that year. Barcelona would have to wait another three years to claim their fifth.
Ernesto Valverde’s visitors are presently flying high at the top of La Liga, whereas Antonio Conte’s Chelsea is battling through a problematic domestic spell. Barcelona is heavily fancied to progress to the next stage. That said, Chelsea’s side contains several top-class players who inspire very reasonable hope. When it comes to picking a combined XI from the two sides, who makes the cut?
Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois
Possibly the toughest choice in the entire lineup. Chelsea’s powerful shot-stopper Thibaut Courtois edges out Barca’s modern marvel Marc Ander ter Stegen. While the latter is enjoying a stronger campaign, Courtois has the unique blend of imposing physique, superb positional sense, and excellent one-on-one ability. Although he looks like your dad, the Belgian is still only 25 and possesses the potential to be the very best around.
Centre Backs: Gerard Pique, Cesar Azpilicueta, Samuel Umtiti
Affectionately nicknamed ‘Piquenbauer’, Mr Shakira has been crucial to Barcelona’s success since Manchester United agreed a £5m return to his boyhood club in 2008. He’s recently been rewarded with a new contract. It’s no real surprise given his inspirational leadership at both club and country level.
His youthful Los Cules partner Samuel Umtiti has been subject to obsessive attention from English sides, especially those whose names begin with Manchester. The former Lyon star has all the attributes to stand out in defending's current possession-orientated era. He possesses great intellect, not to mention timing when it comes to tackles and interceptions.
If Umtiti is seeking greatness, Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta must be among his current idols. It’s truly flabbergasting how the Spaniard has gone underrated for so long. Cheech and Chong be damned; this 'Dave' is definitely here, man. His remarkable all-around consistency in the Premier League has somehow only merited 20 caps for La Roha in five years. Nevertheless, four major trophies with a club as topsy-turvy as Chelsea isn’t a bad haul.
Right Wingback: Sergi Roberto
Previously regarded as a player with no future at the Camp Nou, Sergi Roberto’s switch to the defensive right side has made a huge impact on the club. His emergence allowed Dani Alves to leave the club for Juventus. The 26-year-old has already matched his best tally of six assists in La Liga this season and looks to have his role locked down.
Centre Midfielders: N’Golo Kante, Sergio Busquets
It’s bewildering how few clubs were in for N’Golo Kante in 2016. Chelsea made the early deal of the century when it signed the Frenchman. Influential in successive title wins at Leicester and Chelsea, last season’s PFA Player of the Season has been shamefully let down by multiple midfield partners this term.
If Kante could request a midfield partner, Nemanja Matic likely tops the list, but Sergio Busquets wouldn't be far behind. The brainy Spaniard has been pivotal to Barcelona’s playing style since Pep Guardiola promoted him to the first team in 2008. His role may be simple, but the classy operator selflessly continues to allow others to flourish offensively while shielding the defence. He’s a must in this side.
Left Wingback: Jordi Alba
While Marcos Alonso hasn’t done a whole lot wrong in his year and a half in London, this pick is purely down to his compatriot’s comparative ability. Jordi Alba came under significant flak for his dip under Luis Enrique. He’s been reborn under Ernesto Valverde. Akin to Roberto on the opposite flank, Alba has matched his personal goal and assist records in five fewer league games while considerably improving his defensive play.
Right Wing: Lionel Messi
The greatest of all time? Sure, Lionel Messi may have gone without a Ballon d’Or win in three years, but even into his thirties the little Argentinean continues to make football appear utterly effortless. With 27 goals in 36 games across all competitions, Messi is again dragging Barcelona to glory, as he has for nearly ten seasons now. Quite possibly this team’s captain and undoubtedly their best player.
Left Wing: Eden Hazard
During a season shrouded with controversy and disappointment, mercurial winger Eden Hazard has continued where he left off in Chelsea’s sixth league title campaign. While his profligacy in front of goal keeps him from competing with the world’s best, Hazard continues to leave defenders bamboozled with his outrageous dribbling ability and outstanding acumen. Could he get that huge move to Real Madrid in the summer? Now seems an ideal time.
Centre Forward: Luis Suarez
Astonishingly now 31 years of age, Luis Suarez has come under intense scrutiny several times in his career. However, this campaign represented the first time the Uruguayan received criticism for his on-field quality. After a rough start, the unique frontman has adapted to a supporting role following Neymar’s exit. His remarkable creativity and lethal finishing mean he’s still one of the best strikers around.