Barcelona v Chelsea – Nou Camp – March 14 – Round of 16 – 2nd leg clash
All the great defending Chelsea did to hang on to their vital one-goal advantage at Stamford Bridge came to nothing by the time the game ended, thanks to a brilliant Iniesta-Messi inter-play that helped the visiting Blaugrana equalize with a vital away goal. Antonio Conte’s men who would have loved to the enter the 2nd leg of the clash with a 1-0 score line will now have their backs to the wall at a hostile Nou Camp environment with the aggregate reading 1-1.
But Barca’s hopes have received a blow with Andres Iniesta probably having suffered a hamstring injury sustained during Sunday’s La Liga clash against Atletico Madrid. Coach Ernesto Valverde’s problems in that vital mid-field space has been further deepened by Phillipe Coutinho’s absence.
Despite the draw at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were tactically the better side. Antonio Conte was effectively able to tie down Messi and Luis Suarez for most of the match and had it not been for Iniesta’s brilliant playmaking skills, the Italian coach would have proceeded to Spain with a desired result. But this will probably not stop him from adopting the same tactics he did at home. Barring the solitary Messi goal, the Barca attack was bottled up to such an extent that goalie Thibaut Courtois was tested just twice in the game, this despite a 77 per cent ball-possession by the Catalan giants.
As far as a replacement to the iconic Iniesta goes, 24-year old Portuguese central mid-fielder, Andre Gomes, looks likely to start off against Chelsea. Another candidate for the spot, Ousmane Dembele, the £97m import from Borussia Dortmund, who has been out injured since November is likely to feature in Barca’s weekend fixture against Malaga which should give one a fair indication about his fitness for coming encounters.
Chelsea looked deadly on the breaks at Stamford Bridge and had the Barca defence on the ropes whenever they counter-attacked. Willian especially along with Pedro, Eden Hazard and Marco Alonso looked likely to get goals in such situations. A similar thing could happen at Nou Camp with an over-enthusiastic Barcelona going for the kill and leaving holes in their defence. Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Victor Moses all of whom were so outstanding at the back in Stamford Bridge will have to perform an encore in Spain.
Barcelona don’t have fond memories of Chelsea’s previous visit to Nou Camp in 2012 when a 2-2 draw saw them booted out of the Champions League. in fact, quite shockingly Chelsea haven’t lost any of their 8 games against the Catalan club since 2006, something that could weigh quite heavily on the minds of the hosts.
Domestic form-wise, Barcelona seemed to have lost the invincible sparkle they showed at the start of the season, drawing half of their last 6 La Liga games since February. Chelsea on the other hand are going through one of their worst phases, losing 4 of their 6 previous Premier league games.
Despite a disappointing history against the visiting London club, Barcelona are strong contenders to qualify for the Round of 8 as the odds below suggest. But it would be least surprising if the outcome of March 14th’s Nou Camp clash were to confound Chelsea critics and bookmakers.
Half Time/Full Time, Barcelona/Barcelona, Best Odds 6/5 @ Ladbrokes