Tuesday is going to be a nerve-wracking day for all Chelsea fans. Barcelona vs. Chelsea is probably one of the highlight games of the round of 16 for this year’s Champions’ League. As a Chelsea fan, I have attempted to assemble all of the Chelsea supporters I know for a watch party of solidarity. This round of 16 fixture will determine whether we will have a successful season or not, and may very likely determine whether Antonio Conte keeps his job for another year or gets the ax Roman Abramovich so likes to swing. I want to analyze the history of the fixture, both teams’ form coming into the match and what Chelsea can do to win.
Coming into this fixture, the odds are absolutely stacked against us. Currently, the betting odds are: Barcelona win: 11/10, Draw, 5/2, Chelsea win: 5/2. Considering this match is being played at Stamford Bridge, this does not bode well for us. Yet historically, Chelsea has the upper hand in this fixture. Dating back to 1966, Chelsea has won 5, lost 5 and drawn 5 – perfectly even. But the modern Chelsea is not comparable to Chelsea 50 years ago. After the takeover by Roman Abramovich and his cash injection into the club, Chelsea has become a football heavyweight. We have won a champions league and 6 premier league titles under his ownership. For this reason, I believe it best to analyze our more recent form. Chelsea is undefeated in our last 7 fixtures against Barcelona dating back to 2006. History favors us, but history is also not the primary indicator in determining the outcome of a matchup, though it may weigh on the minds of the players.
This fixture also has a lot of history for both sets of fans. Every Chelsea fan knows of the injustice served to us in the 2009 Champions’ League matchup. The referee’s atrocious play calling, denying Chelsea two clear penalties and numerous fouls ultimately leading to Chelsea being knocked out of the tournament, prompted numerous conspiracy theories about the referee Tom Henning Øvrebø. Though many say justice was served by Fernando Torres when we beat them in the 2012 Champions’ League semi-final, any true Chelsea fan will tell you that justice can never be served for the highway robbery of the 2009 semi-final. This will be remembered in the stadium by every Chelsea fan on Tuesday, and will, hopefully, create an extremely hostile environment for the visitors.
Chelsea has had an extremely disappointing season this year, trailing league leaders Manchester City by 19 points and sitting in 4th place. We were also knocked out of the League Cup semi-final by London rivals Arsenal, a matchup we were predicted to win. With our league title and Cup dreams dashed, our hopes remain in the FA Cup and Champions’ League. The English Press have been reporting rumors of Conte’s exit after such a dismal season, and a decisive loss on Tuesday could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Coming into the game, Chelsea’s form has been all over the place. Of the last 5 games, we have either decisively won or decisively lost every match by 3 goals or more. Having won 3 of the last 5, inconsistency is the last thing you want to see in a team before facing the tournament favorites. Not to mention that two of the teams we lost to are lower table teams that we should have easily put away. Having strengthened with Olivier Giroud, Ross Barkley and Emerson in the winter transfer window, not to mention Alvaro Morata, an ex-Real player, we must exploit Barcelona’s known aerial weakness with good midfield play and headers.
Barcelona’s form, on the other hand, is nothing short of remarkable. Though they have only won 3 of the last 5 games, they are the only left unbeaten team in Europe this season, having just matched the clubs unbeaten record of 31 consecutive games set by Pep Guardiola in 2010-2011. They lead La Liga by 7 points, remain 17 points clear of Real Madrid, and will be competing for their fourth consecutive League Cup. Having strengthened with Coutinho, a known thorn for Chelsea in the EPL, and possibly having Ousmane Dembele back from injury for the match, their team looks absolutely devastating.
It is clear that there is a stark contrast between both teams, but Chelsea is all of England’s underdog. England has gone 5 years without bringing home a Champions’ League trophy. Due to a much tougher league schedule, no winter break and an inability to rest our stars, Barcelona has a strong advantage. With 3 of the 5 English teams getting strong results so far, we may see this trend bucked in 2018, but Chelsea needs to step up.
For Chelsea to come out of this matchup victorious, we have to do three things. First, we must play more defensively and not allow Barcelona to exploit us on the counter-attack. With their attacking trio and midfield known to be extremely quick and technical, their counter-attacking play can be devastating if not addressed. Second, we must bog down the midfield and eliminate Iniesta and Busquets from the game. Since La Liga is a very technical league as compared to the EPL which is much more physical, by denying their midfield space to operate and playing strong, their chief creators are rendered useless. With no service, the attacking trio will be left twiddling their thumbs. Kante is perhaps the best midfielder in the world for this job with his incredible pace, tackling and man marking. Third, we must use our height to our advantage. Between Cahill, Rudiger, Azpilicueta, Morata, and Giroud, we have a significant height advantage over Umtiti and Pique, Barcelona’s center-backs. Hazard and Fabregas must put in overtime in putting in air balls to provide service for us to stand a chance.
While Tuesday is not do-or-die for the blues, the reverse fixture at the Camp Nou cannot be counted on, as we saw last year when a supposedly lackluster Barcelona put through 6 goals on Paris SG to progress (see my article Football’s Greatest Comeback for more). Come Tuesday, I will be wearing my Chelsea scarf, eyes glued to the TV with my brothers in arms as we play one of the most important games of the season.
My prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona.
Historical Meetings – https://www.11v11.com/teams/chelsea/tab/opposingTeams/opposition/Barcelona/
Match Odds – https://www.oddschecker.com/football/champions-league/chelsea-v-barcelona/winner
Team form – http://www.espn.com/soccer/matchstats?gameId=499535
Referee Conspiracy – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/chelsea/5289907/Chelsea-v-Barcelona-Uefa-dismiss-conspiracy-theory-over-Norwegian-referee.html
Ousmane Dembele Return – http://www.skysports.com/football/news/11833/11209074/barcelona-forward-ousmane-dembele-suffers-fresh-injury-setback
Barcelona Unbeaten Record – http://www.espn.com/soccer/barcelona/story/3387244/ernesto-valverde-delighted-as-barcelona-match-club-record-unbeaten-run
Chelsea Transfers – http://www.worldfootball.net/teams/chelsea-fc/2018/6/