Chelsea are set to meet European rivals Barcelona in February and March in the Round of 16 of the Champions League. It certainly will be a marquee matchup, full of great (and controversial) history. Chelsea, as the lower seed, will play the first leg at Stamford Bridge before a second leg at the Camp Nou, which will be Chelsea’s first trip to Barcelona since that famous night in 2012.
Barcelona, the unbeaten league leaders in Spain were probably the toughest side we could have drawn — an argument could easily be made for PSG as well of course, with their strike force of Neymar, Mbappe, and Cavani. Either way, for Antonio Conte, who’s still looking for his first trophy in this competition as a head coach, this is a great opportunity to rise to the occasion and show our quality to the world.
"Our reaction must be positive. When you are at this stage you must be ready to face every team, and in this case we must be ready to face Barcelona."
"We must be ready to play at home and away, it’s impossible to see an advantage to play at home or away in the first game. When you play Barcelona you must put 120 per cent at home and away if you want to hope to go to the next round."
"This type of game is a good chance for every player to show the right value, not only for Hazard. Every player has to play in the right way."
-Antonio Conte; source: Chelsea FC
The 120 per cent may be cliche, but given the actual scheduling of the games, will be a minimum requirement.
But before all that, there will be plenty of Premier League and domestic cup games, which, as Conte had talked about before, must be our focus for the next couple months.
“I think our priority must be the League, to try to stay up and fight for a Champions League place. That must be our priority in this moment. Then when it will be the moment to play against Barcelona we will start to think of the game against Barcelona."
“We must be very realistic to understand that this league is very dangerous. We have to go game by game, play every game with 120% of our strength. Otherwise we risk to have a bad surprise at the end of the season.”
Incidentally, Chelsea suffered a “bad surprise” in the season we last played Barcelona, finishing sixth in the league and only making it back to the Champions League because of another famous night, this time in Munich in the final. Those two games against Barcelona in 2012 live vividly in memory, as do previous encounters in 2009, 2006, 2005, and even all the way back in 2000.
Chelsea do have a decent record against the Catalan giants, especially compared to most other teams, and while we’ve been eliminated in three of those five knockout round meetings (2000, 2006, 2009), we have not lost a game to Barcelona since 2006, when Asier Del Horno got sent off in the first half at Stamford Bridge (2 wins and 5 draws since).
However, the past has no bearing in our upcoming match-up. As per Conte’s word, it is all about what we can do in the present.
“The past is the past. Now it's the present, another story. It's totally different.”
-Antonio Conte; source: London Evening Standard