Barcelona to up ante at Camp Nou while Chelsea need to restrict Lionel Messi influence again

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Barcelona and Chelsea will go head-to-head for a place in the Champions League quarter-finals on Wednesday night.

The two sides couldn’t be separated at Stamford Bridge, with a late Lionel Messi strike cancelling out Willian’s opener to give Barca a crucial away goal.

Blues boss Antonio Conte was heralded for his tactical display in west London as Chelsea soaked up Barcelona possession but allowed the pass-masters limited space to create any openings.

Here, we look at how the re-match could be decided as Conte renews touchline acquaintances with Ernesto Valverde.

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

HOW CAN CHELSEA RESTRICT MESSI’S INFLUENCE?

The Argentine only had one shot on goal in the first leg, but what did he do with that? Score, of course.

Messi (96) and Suarez (46) had the fewest touches of all Barca’s midfield and attacking players, with the Blues doing well to stop the supply line to them.

Between them, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic made just four key passes in west London with Marcos Alonso, Cesc Fabregas and N’Golo Kante weighing in with 15 tackles and interceptions between them – often stifling positive looking build up.

On what seems like a bigger pitch in Catalonia, giving Barcelona the chance to spread the play, it will be difficult for Chelsea to adopt their close pressing, hassling and harrying mantra once more. Barca are just too good to be kept quiet for 90 minutes.

Antonio Conte got it right but Messi uncontainable

Conte got it right in the first leg and kept Messi largely underwraps.

BARCELONA TO UP THE ANTE

Ernesto Valverde’s first season at the Camp Nou has followed an almost-perfect script, but this is the biggest test of his tenure.

The ex-Athletic Bilbao coach was outfoxed by Conte two weeks ago, with the Italian’s side soaking up Barcelona’s superior 73-per-cent possession, shackling the Catalans’ attacking talent by closing down at close quarters and playing more on the break.

Valverde seemingly had little to no answers to break down that obstinate resolve and relied on a misplaced Andreas Christensen pass, coupled with some Iniesta and Messi magic, to escape with a draw.

Expect Barca to make home advantage count, try to move the ball quicker and ensure their full-backs restrict the Blues’ wing play this time around.

The hosts needs to put the Blues on the backfoot early on.

CHELSEA NEED TO THROW CAUTION TO THE WIND

The former Juventus and Italy manager’s tactics have come in for plenty of stick in recent weeks, especially in the defeat at Manchester City, but Conte is shrewder than he is given credit for and deployed the perfect strategic footprint in the opening leg which should have brought about a 1-0 lead.

However, on Spanish soil, the Blues will need to be a bit more fluid in search of a vital away goal – and need to score to have a chance of going through.

Eden Hazard, who will probably occupy the false-nine role, is a man they should rely on given he has top-scored with 15 so far this term.

Both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud should have an important role to play too – but that’ll probably be from the bench.

Willian

Willian scored Chelsea’s goal at the Bridge.

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Five reasons why Barcelona are favourites in their Champions League clash with Chelsea

David Cooper 13/03/2018
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Barcelona head into their second leg round of 16 clash with Chelsea in confident mood.

Having secured a crucial away goal at Stamford Bridge in the first leg 1-1 draw, the Catalans are backed to advance to the next round of the Champions League.

Here are five stat-based reasons why Barcelona are favourites to beat Chelsea to the quarter-finals.

HISTORY ON THEIR SIDE

– Based on historic results in Europe, Barcelona’s odds to advance based on the 1-1 away draw now are 74%. Chelsea’s have been reduced to 26%.

– Barcelona have not failed to win in more than five successive CL matches against any other opponent.

LAST 16 EXPERTS

– The last time Barcelona failed to survive the Last 16 round was in 2006/07, when they were ousted by
Liverpool (2-1 home defeat, 1-0 away win).

PREY ON ENGLISH TEAMS

– In three of the last four CL campaigns, Barcelona eliminated an English team in the Last 16: Manchester City in 2013/14 and 2014/15, and Arsenal in 2015/16. Last season, they ousted Paris Saint-Germain (4-0 away defeat, 6-1 home win).

SOLID DEFENCE IN EUROPE

– Barcelona have kept a clean sheet in six of their eight CL fixtures this season. The only players that managed to score against Barcelona this term were Dimitris Nikolaou for Olympiacos and Willian for Chelsea.

HOME ADVANTAGE

– Barcelona have lost only nine of 114 Champions League home matches (W83-D22-L9). Of these results, only 13% were a result that Chelsea need to advance after 90 minutes. Another 78% would see Barca progress instantly. Nine percent of the results (a 1-1 draw) would force extra time.

– Barcelona are unbeaten in 24 CL home matches (W22-D2-L0), since the 3-0 defeat against Bayern in the 2012/13 semifinals. Only Bayern München (29, 1998-2002) remained unbeaten in more consecutive CL home matches.

All stats provided by gracenote.com

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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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