Chelsea return to Champions League action this week, and they are about to pay the price for their second place finish in the group. The Blues slumped to finish behind Roma in their pool, leaving them facing La Liga leaders Barcelona in the last 16.
Given how the Catalans are very much on the up domestically – despite the sale of Neymar – the Blues are the outsiders in this one. Can Antonio Conte inspire his side to a victory over another Spanish side, or will they drop out of Europe at the first knockout round as they did in the 2015/16 season?
The bookies clearly see a victory for Barcelona, not just overall but in this first leg. Losing the opening clash would be a huge setback for the Premier League champions, with a trip to the Nou Camp coming up in three weeks’ time. Chelsea crashed out to PSG in 2016 when they were last in the competition, during their last dismal season following a title win. While things haven’t been quite as tough this time around, crashing out of Europe at this stage would be a setback which Antonio Conte can’t really afford at this stage.
Team News: How Will Blues Deal With Catalans?
Conte made his customary changes in their FA Cup clash on Friday night, but don’t expect anyone to be held back for this clash. Marcos Alonso should be fit again to take up his place on the left side of defence, while Victor Moses will be on the opposite wing. Olivier Giroud is available for selection despite playing a role in Arsenal’s Europa League campaign, but he’s not likely to start ahead of Alvaro Morata. The Spaniard showed his worth in the trip to Atletico Madrid earlier this season, and there’s hope that he can provide a similar impact in this game.
Barcelona may be known for the 4-3-3 which Pep Guardiola utilised to take them to incredible levels, but things have been different this season. The loss of Neymar, and the injury to his replacement – Ousmane Dembele – means Barca are no longer using their front three. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez are their double act up front, with a four man midfield behind them. While a 4-4-2 isn’t what you’d usually expect from Barca, but the approach does seem to be working for them. Having moved seven points clear at the top of the table in Spain, it’s clearly an effective approach.
It’s hard to match Barca’s form this season, given that they’ve won 18 of their 23 league games, drawing the rest. It’s been too much for European champions Real Madrid to handle, who are 17 points behind the Catalans in the table. They’ve won 75% of their away trips this season, so can they take that form into this clash with the Premier League side?
The visitors have built their brilliant form on a strong defensive record, as they’ve conceded just 0.48 goals per game in the league this term. They’ve managed to keep a clean sheet in 61% of their outings in La Liga, which should worry a Chelsea side who have been hit and miss up front this season. However, the Catalans have drawn both trips to sides in the top three in Spain, so there’s a chance that they’ll struggle in another big game this week.
Chelsea v Barcelona Head to Head
The Blues have a fantastic record against Barcelona of late, having gone seven games unbeaten against the Catalans. That includes the last two meetings – the incredible double header in the 2012 semi-finals of this competition, including an incredible strike from Ramires and the late Fernando Torres strike. Can the Premier League side continue that run this week?
- Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea, Apr 2012
- Chelsea 1-0 Barcelona, Apr 2012
- Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona, May 2009
- Barcelona 0-0 Chelsea, Apr 2009
- Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea, Oct 2006
- Under 2.5 Goals – 19/20 with Betfair
- 0-0 Draw – 10/1 with Coral
Chelsea are 3/1 outsiders with Betfred heading into this game, despite their impressive record against the Catalans of late. Meanwhile, the visitors have been made favourites at evens with Ladbrokes, while you can back the draw at 13/5 with BetVictor here. It does seem like the recent record between the two sides is being largely ignored, and there’s also a case to say that Barca’s results in this competition are being ignored too. They’ve not been a side who have won at a canter in their recent away trips in Europe, so could they struggle at Stamford Bridge?
Barca have slipped up at top sides in Spain, and they come into this game with a mixed record in Europe on the road. The last few seasons have seen them toil in trips to all kinds of sides. They’ve managed just three wins in their last nine away in this competition, including just one victory in five. They lost to nil away to PSG and Juventus last season, before seeing a single goal scored across the last three European ties. An own goal gave them a 1-0 win at Sporting, while they drew 0-0 at Olympiakos and Juventus in the group. That doesn’t bode well for this clash.
With Chelsea having a mixed record going forward this term, we can’t see this being a high scoring game. We’re backing under 2.5 goals in this clash, which looks like good value at 19/20 with Betfair. Given how the Blues are unbeaten of late against the Catalans, having drawn most of those clashes we expect this one to finish up level too. While the draw seems like good value in this clash, we’re backing a goalless draw in this one, despite many predicting goals. A 0-0 draw is well priced at 10/1 with Coral.