Busquets v Fabregas and other key battles that could decide Barcelona v Chelsea

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Chance for Fabregas to impress against old club.

Barcelona versus Chelsea is the pick of the second legs in the round of 16.

The two European giants face off in the Champions League at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, after playing out a 1-1 first leg encounter at Stamford Bridge last month.

Here, we look at three key player battles that could go a long way to deciding which team progresses to the quarter-finals.

Get in touch with your thoughts on the game via Twitter and Facebook.

SERGIO BUSQUETS V CESC FABREGAS

After Lionel Messi, arguably the first name on the Barcelona team sheet is Sergio Busquets. The midfield enforcer’s influence can often go under the radar but it isn’t underappreciated by boss Ernesto Valverde or his team-mates.

Busquets’ seamless passing ability (90.1 per cent success rate this season) and tackle rate (average 2.7 per match – more than any other Camp Nou star) have been vital in a vintage campaign which has seen the Spanish giants go unbeaten in the league and in Europe.

The 29-year-old, of course, knows Fabregas very well having played alongside him between 2011 and 2014 in Catalonia. There’s no doubt Busquets will relish the personal match-up and look to occupy the Chelsea playmaker, in turn, creating more space for Messi.

For Fabregas, hopes of a Spanish recall have long since faded but he will be set on showing he is still a force when he returns to his old hunting ground.

Chelsea’s midfield man hasn’t enjoyed a vintage season at all, given he has registered only a handful of assists and featured frequently from the bench. He will have his hands full in the engine room and when it comes to supplying the ammunition for the away side’s attack too.

Pass-master Sergio Busquets was at his finest against Chelsea.

Pass-master in the middle: Busquets.

LIONEL MESSI V EDEN HAZARD

The Blaugrana legend’s timing is often immaculate and the birth of his third son last Saturday meant he missed the routine win over Malaga.

That was the best possible scenario for Barca, given their talisman will be fresh and desperate to mark the new arrival into his family with a goal and victory.

Messi broke his duck against the Blues at Stamford Bridge in the first leg, scoring for the first time in nine matches when facing the London club, but was marshalled well and made just one successful dribble as a stubborn Chelsea defence limited his influence.

While it’s unfair to compare any player on the planet to the 30-year-old, Hazard is Chelsea’s equivalent – and both teams will be looking to feed the ball into the creative maestros.

He will need to make more of an impact than he did at the Bridge though where he was deployed as a false nine. Whether or not Conte starts with either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud could have a big influence on the Belgian’s performance.

If there was ever a stage for him to showcase just how good he is – and remind potential suitors Real Madrid for that matter – then this is it.

Chelsea are set to offer Eden Hazard new contractual terms.

Hazard could operate in a false nine role again for Chelsea.

JORDI ALBA V WILLIAN

The Barcelona full-back will have to be watchful of the Brazilian’s marauding runs into the right channel and indeed the 29-year-old hovering into the centre of the pitch – the position in which he netted the first leg opener.

Alba has all the tools to contend with Willian’s pace and direct running but Barca will have to be alert to his threat on the counter-attack, especially when the hosts are urged forward by a competitive Camp Nou crowd.

At the Bridge, Willian made six successful forward forays at the away side’s defence and was also up for the physical battle, too – winning each of his two tackles and two aerial duels.

Willian will support Chelsea’s front stars.

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Barcelona v Chelsea Champions League talking points as Conte feels the pressure

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Barcelona and Chelsea will fight it out for a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night.

Here, we look at some of the key talking points before the clash.

Get in touch with your thoughts on the game via Twitter and Facebook.

COULD THIS MATCH BE A DEFINING ONE FOR CONTE?

Chelsea are four points off a top four berth domestically and pressure has built significantly on Conte since he masterminded a credible draw in the first leg at home to Barcelona.

Limp defeats at Manchester City and Manchester United won’t be forgotten in a hurry while last weekend’s success over Crystal Palace wasn’t too convincing. Barcelona are no Porto or Basel when it comes to the comfortable last 16 ties other English sides had to negotiate, but the Blues need a heartfelt performance at the Camp Nou to convince Roman Abramovich that the players are still on Conte’s side.

A comprehensive defeat could really knock the stuffing out of Chelsea’s season and see the Londoners’ season go off the rails, with there being much speculation about the futures of several players.

Securing a passage to the last eight against a Barcelona side unbeaten in league and European competition this season would have a huge galvanising effect and go a long way to seeing Conte extend his time in the Chelsea dugout – should he wish to do just that.

It’s perhaps the defining game in his two-year tenure so far and a chance for the Italian to go one further than last season’s exit to Paris Saint-Germain at the same stage.

The pressure is building on Conte.

THERE’S PLENTY OF PRESSURE ON BARCELONA, TOO…

Given fierce rivals Real Madrid have won three out of the past four Champions League titles – with Barcelona breaking up that monopoly in 2015 with their fifth crown – the home faithful have grown restless at the Whites’ success and two disappointing quarter-final exits in consecutive seasons.

The world-record pre-season sale of Neymar aside helped to balance the financial books but there’s no getting away from the fact Barca have spent big (€324.3m being the most in Europe) and after a stellar campaign so far, all of the weight of expectation will be on the hosts to brush Chelsea aside and take a big stride towards European glory.

It’s not pressure the Spanish giants aren’t used to and in fairness they have delivered in two of the biggest matches so far this term, beating Real Madrid emphatically at the Bernabeu in late December and then of course the important victory earlier this month over Atletico.

Barca have produced in the big matches this term.

CUP TIED COUTINHO A BIG MISS FOR BARCA

Blaugrana were well aware they would be without the Brazilian in Europe when they broke the bank to sign him in January, but such has been his growing influence in midfield, he was always going to be missed every time Champions League action rolled around.

The 25-year-old has been instrumental in recent weeks, with his star man showing in the priceless La Liga home victory over Atletico Madrid being backed up by a goal at Malaga.

It was against Diego Simeone’s side though that Coutinho underlined why he is often the difference, in an all-action midfield display which saw him backup Lionel Messi’s brilliance and create four chances, complete six dribbles and have two shots on goal.

Paulinho, who played 90 minutes against Malaga for the first time since early February, is set to come in though he will need to improve significantly on what has been a lacklustre 2018 season so far, with a troublesome foot problem and issue with the club’s physio department part of the plotline to his indifferent form.

If the 29-year-old fails to show up, Ousmane Dembele is a man Barca can call upon to enter the fray given his confidence levels have risen in recent weeks.

Star man: Coutinho has thrived in a Barcelona shirt.

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Barcelona to win 4-0? Fans make their predictions ahead of Champions League clash with Chelsea

David Cooper 13/03/2018
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Barcelona host Chelsea in the second leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie on Wednesday night.

The Premier League champions arrive at the Camp Nou after a 1-1 draw with the Catalans  in the first leg.

Many believe Chelsea should’ve made more of their home advantage in the first leg and stand little chance of progress in Spain.

Fans from both sides of the fence made their predictions ahead of the encounter in the video below from Barcelona’s YouTube channel.

How do you think the contest will play out?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.

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