Chelsea and Barcelona renew one of football’s great rivalries six years after the West London club produced a result fitting of this competition and which took it a step closer to bagging its maiden and, to date, only Champions League title in 2012.
Since then, Barcelona has continued to go from strength to strength, winning the LaLiga three times and the Champions League once (2014-15) in the last five seasons, while Chelsea won the Premier League last season but has failed to recreate the magic in this competition.
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The Catalan club is having a splendid 2017-18 season and is a favourite to win the domestic league and the Copa del Rey. Chelsea’s form, though, has been up and down and it comes into this clash on the back of largely mediocre domestic results.
The English club, however, has the personnel to take on Barca and pull off another heist.
Possible formations and line-ups
Chelsea (3-4- 3/3-5- 2): Thibaut Courtois (GK), Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, Gary Cahill, Victor Moses, N’Golo Kante, Cesc Fabregas, Marcos Alonso, Eden Hazard, Willian/Pedro and Alvaro Morata.
Barcelona (4-1- 2-1- 2): Marc-Andre ter Stegen (GK), Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique, Samuel Umtiti, Jordi Alba, Ivan Rakitic, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Paulinho, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
Busquets vs Hazard
Predominantly deployed on the left of a front three, Eden Hazard has scored 15 goals and assisted four in 35 appearances this season. An interesting statistic is that the Belgian has played an average of 2.6 key passes per match, second only to Fabregas (3.1) of the Chelsea players.
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If Chelsea lines up in a 3-4- 3 on Tuesday night, Hazard will start on the left but, as he often tends to, he will drift inside and operate from a central position, closer to Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets. (He will start behind the striker in a 3-5- 2.)
Busquets plays his role (that of breaking up play and starting attacks with clever distribution) better than pretty much anyone and his task will be to neutralise Hazard’s creative influence.
What also makes this duel fascinating is Hazard’s fleet-footedness and ability to take players on (he averages 4.9 dribbles a match this season). It's safe to say that Busquets’ mobility will be tested to the full.
Kante vs Iniesta
Matches of this magnitude are often won and lost in midfield and this is likely to be a key midfield battle over the two legs. Andres Iniesta remains the heartbeat of Barcelona, being the one who links defence and attack, keeps the ball moving and expertly creates holes in the opposition defence and exploiting them.
Playing on the left of Barca’s midfield diamond, the 33-year- old Spaniard will come up against the modern Claude Makelele so to say.
N'Golo Kante’s positional sense and tackling and intercepting abilities are arguably second to none. And he doesn’t commit a lot of fouls either, indicated by his average 1.1 fouls per match this season. From Chelsea’s perspective, he's the perfect man to keep Iniesta quiet.
Azpilicueta vs Suarez
This is a battle of two contrasting personalities. Cesar Azpilicueta has been Chelsea’s best defender this season, in a defensive and an offensive sense. He has played all but one of its league fixtures and been an ever-present in Chelsea’s Champions League campaign so far.
In Luis Suarez, however, this Spanish defender faces his biggest test yet of this season. Inside the box, near the box or outside, Suarez is a lethal striker and his personality is such that he can easily get under a defender’s skin. However, Azpilicueta has the attributes to deal with the Uruguayan and frustrate him.
Suarez has yet to score a goal in this competition this season and Azpilicueta is Chelsea’s best bet to stop the former Liverpool man breaking his duck.
Chelsea vs Barcelona stats
- Chelsea is the most successful English club against Barcelona, winning four of its Champions League matches (12)
- Lionel Messi has never scored against the Blues in eight matches
- Chelsea has won four of its Champions League meetings (six) with Barca at Stamford Bridge, losing just once and drawing once
- Cesc Fabregas played for the Catalan club the last time these two met in the Champions League, in April 2012