Barcelona hold the key advantage of an away goal ahead of the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Chelsea at the Camp Nou on Wednesday (19:45 GMT).
Chelsea succeeded in keeping the game tight in the opening encounter at Stamford Bridge and had hopes of victory following Willian’s strike on the hour. But then an errant pass out of defence allowed Andres Iniesta to step forward and set up Lionel Messi to equalise.
It is a tough blow after an otherwise strong and disciplined performance. Barcelona had some problems picking a way through Chelsea’s amassed defensive ranks. The Blues always carried a threat on the break, with Willian twice striking the woodwork before scoring. Antonio Conte has called on his side to replicate that display on Wednesday.
That comment came in the wake of Chelsea’s slightly nervy 2-1 win at home to Crystal Palace on Saturday. Chelsea played some good football and created plenty of chances but still found themselves hanging on as Palace pressed on in the final minutes. The two-goal cushion provided by Willian’s opener and a Palace own goal did, however, eventually prove sufficient.
It was a welcome victory for Conte’s side after four defeats in their previous five league fixtures and largely poor form since the turn of the year. After outspoken comments from Eden Hazard about the negative approach employed in their recent defeat to Manchester City, Conte’s comments after the Palace match suggested that he is keen to work with his team to find a good balance between attack and defence on Wednesday.
They will have to because there is a vital difference between the first leg and the second. While sit back and counter is sure to be Chelsea’s opening strategy, if they don’t score an early goal, they will eventually have to come out of their shell and attack. Barcelona’s away goal means that Chelsea have to score if they want to have any chance of progressing.
Getting a goal against Barcelona won’t be easy. They are a solidly structured side this season under Ernesto Valverde, evidenced by the fact that have conceded less than a goal every two matches in La Liga. Across league and Champions League action, they have kept clean sheets in 22 of their 34 matches to date. The latest came in their 2-0 win away to Malaga on Saturday, in which Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho got the goals.
Messi sat out the trip to Andalucia following the birth of his third child and will therefore be well-rested, in a sporting sense at least, for Wednesday’s match. He has been a typically decisive contributor throughout the campaign and after finally breaking his duck against Chelsea at the ninth attempt, will hope to get himself on the scoresheet again.
Barcelona are, however, likely to be without another of their key players, as Andres Iniesta is a major doubt with a hamstring injury. With Coutinho cup-tied after playing in the Champions League for Liverpool earlier this season and Denis Suarez injured, Valverde therefore has a key decision to make. Andre Gomes would be a more natural replacement, but Ousmane Dembele showed well in the win over Malaga and could get the chance to start.
Barcelona are obviously the favourites with the UK-friendly sports betting sites, but Valverde has been quick to insist that he expects Chelsea to be tough opponents once again. It is only necessary to look at the history of European encounters between these two teams to see that Chelsea are capable of upsetting the Champions League odds at the Camp Nou. Indeed, they are unbeaten in their last four visits to the stadium.
It is difficult for this Barcelona vs Chelsea preview to see them securing the result they need this time around. They are not in good form and look too indecisive at both ends of the pitch to hold off Barcelona. The home side may not be as aesthetically pleasing as some of their previous incarnations but are well-organised and carry more than enough attacking threat to secure themselves a place in the last eight of the Champions League with victory on Wednesday.
Our Preview’s Barcelona vs. Chelsea Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on Barcelona -1.5 on the Asian Handicap @ 8/7 with BetVictor.