Friday night’s 4-0 win over Hull in the FA Cup fifth round was the perfect embodiment of how these encounters should go.
Antonio Conte rested a number of key players ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Barcelona in the Champions League, and yet his ‘second string’, if we can call them that, did him proud.
Willian was once again superb and bagged a brace, Olivier Giroud opened his Chelsea account with the fourth just before half-time courtesy of a cross from debutant Emerson Palmieri, Ethan Ampadu confirmed he is a player of supreme promise after another assured display at the heart of the back three, and many Blues fans got their first glimpse of another pair of talented youngsters in Callum Hudson-Odoi and Kyle Scott.
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It could not have gone any better for Conte, who hinted that he has been given something of a selection headache by his reshuffled side’s efforts. “It was a positive night, Olivier Giroud got his first goal and Willian had an impressive performance,” he told BBC Sport.
“For sure when I go home, I have many good doubts because I have to try to make the best decision for Tuesday and to have many options is good for me and good for the team.”
So there are plenty of good vibes around the camp at the present, and supporters with decent memories will know we have nothing to fear from the visit of the Catalan outfit. We haven’t lost in seven games against the Spaniards, with two wins and five draws, and you suspect that Conte – and many Blues fans for that matter – would be delighted to take a 0-0 to the Nou Camp for the second leg in a few weeks’ time.
Chelsea Team NewsAs he alluded too, Conte has something of a selection headache following the fine performance of his troops on Friday evening.
That said, you suspect he already knew his starting eleven for the Barcelona game BEFORE the Hull encounter, and it is doubtful that he will have swayed from that thought-process since Friday.
Conte suggested in his press conference for the Hull match that he didn’t think Tiemoue Bakayoko would be ready for Tuesday night, which does slightly alter his thinking especially as one admittedly left-field replacement in midfield, David Luiz, is also suffering with injury.
Marcos Alonso will surely return at left wing-back, with Moses on the right flank, ahead of a back three that features Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger; Gary Cahill was dropped for the must-win game against West Brom, you may recall.
N’Golo Kante will presumably be partnered by Cesc Fabregas in midfield, and in attack Conte has two important decisions to make: does Pedro or Willian get the nod? And will Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata lead the line?
Despite his brilliant showing against Hull, it appears as though Willian might miss out. Pedro was hooked off at half-time against the Tigers – essentially to rest his legs, and his greater work rate and ability to muck in defensively will probably see him get the nod.
Apparently Alvaro Morata has been training like a wild animal let off the leash in the past few days, and the former Real Madrid man will surely be chomping at the bit to renew rivalries with the Catalonians. Giroud, as ever, will provide a sizeable Plan B if required.
Chelsea v Barcelona Head to HeadAs mentioned earlier in the piece, Chelsea boast a pretty good record against Barcelona.
We beat them at the Bridge 1-0 in the 2006/07 Champions League campaign before gaining a 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp, and in 2008/09 we were knocked out of the same competition by them despite drawing both legs.
The best memories were served up in the 2011/12 campaign, where after a fine 1-0 win on home soil we went to the Nou Camp and sealed the deal with a 2-2 draw: the scene of the late Fernando Torres goal that gave Gary Neville in the commentary box his ‘When Harry Met Sally’ moment.
How the Match Will Be WonThis Barcelona starting eleven is a different animal to those vintages, however, although that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Andres Iniesta isn’t quite the influential figure he once was, and his contribution has been partly taken over by Paulinho, the Tottenham flop who went to China and has now become a player reborn in Spain. Philippe Coutinho, of course, requires no introduction.
The way that Barca set up under Ernesto Valverde is slightly different too; especially away from home. Their three away group games in the Champions League ended 0-0, 0-0 and 0-1 respectively against Olympiakos, Juventus and Sporting Lisbon respectively, so perhaps these days they are happier to play on the counter on their travels.
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They remain a class act, that’s for sure, with the attacking talent to beat anybody: Messi, Suarez and Coutinho is an almost Football Manager esque set-up.
But if the Blues can deliver a performance similar to that of Olympiakos and Juventus above and secure a 0-0 draw at the Bridge, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t snatch an away goal or two at the Nou Camp and make like very difficult indeed for our opponents.