The Blues host the La Liga leaders in the first leg of the last-16 tie on Tuesday with the game pitting Argentina forward Messi against Belgium playmaker Hazard.
Hazard described Messi and Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo as “the best in the world” at a pre-match press conference.
He said: “First it is good to be compared with the greatest ever, but I am completely different.
“We play in different leagues, I try and do my job, I try to reach that level, their level, because they are the best in the world.
“To play against Messi is always good, I did once in the World Cup and we lost the game so I hope tomorrow is going to be different.”
In the wake of February 6’s 4-1 humiliation at Watford, few thought the Italian would remain in situ to welcome the visit of Barcelona’s phalanx of superstars to Stamford Bridge for this blockbuster round-of-16 opener in the Champions League.
But in a show of faith, or a rare show of restraint, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich refused to pull the trigger. He will demand an instant return for this uncharacteristic patience.
Over to you, Antonio.
CONTE MUST SHOW HE CAN BE A EUROPEAN KING
A glowing reputation was in Conte’s possession when he disembarked on the King’s Road in summer 2016.
Limited Italy had delivered the best display of Euro 2016 when they dismantled Spain prior to their quarter-final exit, while the rejuvenation of his beloved Juventus had garnered three Serie A crowns and two Supercoppa Italianas.
This personal gravitas only blossomed in the months which followed. Conte’s exhibition of tactical mastery inspired a remarkable top-flight crown, at the first time of asking.
Note the glaring blind spot in this CV. A proper tilt at the Champions League – a tournament he lifted in his combative and unrelenting role in midfield for the Bianconeri during 1995/96 – had not been accomplished.
At Juve, you can forgive the quarter-final failure against eventual winners Bayern Munich in 2012/13. But dreams which froze in the tundra at Galatasaray a season later during the group stage still define the 48-year-old.
The omens now do not look great. Chelsea have won just four of their previous 12 meetings across all competitions ahead of this epic contest, while Barca remain firmly in control of La Liga despite a recent penchant for draws.
The Blues’ squad could also not be blamed for being distracted by the upcoming double header against the Manchester giants in the Premier League. This is before the second leg even comes into play.
Conte must engender clear minds about a game plan, reaffirming faith from last term’s true believers in his astonishingly effective 3-4-3 formation.
There can be no more missteps. All decisions taken present immediate consequence.
Final preparations at Cobham this afternoon! 💪 pic.twitter.com/JrRk8Te6dY— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) February 19, 2018
BLUES SHOULD GO BACK TO THE FUTURE WITH GIROUD
The formation should be set in stone. But the personnel is in flux.
Central to Conte’s dilemma is who to unleash at centre forward.
Summer buy Alvaro Morata’s talent cannot be doubted. Neither his critical goals in clutch wins versus United and Atletico Madrid.
Yet an eight-match barren run has been interspersed with the Spain star’s draining back complaint.
There was no belief in Michy Batshuayi throughout Morata’s previous October drought. Now, this is not the case.
France No9 Olivier Giroud has appeared emboldened since escaping the sidelines at Arsenal. He has put in a shift during all three outings to date, his endeavour being rewarded with a brace against League One-bound Hull City in the FA Cup.
A bombardment of lateral balls for Giroud would hark back to the days of Diego Costa and provide a sense of the unfamiliar to Barca.
Handing him a start is a call Conte must make.
The German champions appear to have received a favourable last-16 draw against opponents who are currently fourth in the Turkish Super Lig standings.
But Heynckes, speaking at his press conference before Tuesday’s first-leg tie at the Allianz Arena, said:
“Besiktas are a team that can play football and it’s no surprise they are here.
“They won all three of their away matches in the group stage.
“They won’t hide, they like to play attacking football – if you let them.
“Besiktas are packed with international experience.
“They’re well organised defensively and know how to counter well, they will look for their chances.”
💬 #Heynckes: “I’ve studied @BesiktasEnglish in detail. They’re a team with international experience and a great coach. He has his side playing some very good football.” #UCL #FCBBJK pic.twitter.com/q8kNMme2Qz
— FC Bayern English (@FCBayernEN) February 19, 2018
Bayern finished runners-up to Paris St Germain in their group, but they start as firm favourites to progress after beating Wolfsburg 2-1 on Saturday to register a 13th straight win across all competitions.
Heynckes rested James Rodriquez as Bayern maintained their 19-point Bundesliga lead, while regular starters Jerome Boateng, Mats Hummels, Joshua Kimmich, Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba and Thomas Muller were all on the bench.
Spanish midfielder Thiago Alcantara returned from a three-month injury absence against Wolfsburg when substitute Lewandowski converted a last-minute penalty for his 27th goal of the season.
But Heynckes dismissed talk of rotation, saying: “I have no A or B team. We only have one Bayern team.
“Every player knows their position and understands each other, so I don’t think we have too many problems with rotation.
“There are far more benefits, because everyone feels important and stays fresh.
“It’s not easy, but I think the players are happy with how I have managed it so far.
“Now I hope my team puts on a top performance to lay the foundations for reaching the quarter-finals.”
— Beşiktaş JK English (@BesiktasEnglish) February 19, 2018
Besiktas became the first Turkish side to top their Champions League group, and overcame German outfit RB Leipzig both home and away in remaining unbeaten.
But main striker Cenk Tosun, who scored four of their 11 goals in qualifying, joined Everton in January and Besiktas come into the tie on the back of being held by lowly Konyaspor last Friday.
They can, though, count on the experience of former Real Madrid defender Pepe – who will be making his 95th Champions League appearance – his fellow Portuguese veteran Ricardo Quaresma and Dutch striker Ryan Babel.
“This will be a tough test for us, but we want to push them as much as possible,” Besiktas’ former Turkey coach Senol Gunes told uefa.com.
“We have very good players and I just want to see what they can do, their skills and their characters.
“If we pass the test it will be fantastic, of course.”