Antonio Conte, who finds himself under pressure even though Chelsea are 4th in the league, still in the FA Cup and still in the Champions league — a CRISIS, unlike, as Gary Cahill recently pointed out, at Liverpool and Spurs, one point ahead and behind, respectively, where “everything seems rosy” — has spoken about how he has spent the last month preparing for the Barcelona tie.
“We have been analysing this team for a long time, we started one month ago and analysed this team. We are speaking about one of the best teams in the world. We have to try to have the perfect game and to try to make the best decisions for this type of team.”
A fairly obvious statement — Chelsea will have to our absolute best to to get a favorable result on Tuesday night, undoubtedly — but Conte does say something pretty interesting next.
“This is a different opponent. They have a fantastic characteristic with the ball, but they can have a weakness without the ball and we must try to exploit this.”
Sounds like Conte does have some designs beyond just sitting back and absorbing pressure while conceding possession — a recipe for disaster, most likely, despite Chelsea succeeding with such tactics in 2012, and Conte’s Italy succeeding with similar tactics against Spain at Euro 2016. Barcelona can and will open a locked defence at will. The Spanish giants are undefeated in the league this season and have scored 62 goals (best in the league) while conceding only 11 (second best).
Judging by Conte’s comments, we can perhaps expect a similar 3-5-2 game-plan to the one in the excellent 2-1 win against Atletico . However, Chelsea will only be able to exploit Barcelona’s weaknesses off the ball if we are ruthless in front of goal—-something which we haven’t seen a lot this season.
Considering how Barcelona have scored 62 goals, one would expect them to have a bucket-load of chances, too, however the truth couldn’t be farther from this. Barcelona have created just 255 chances as compared to Chelsea’s 346(!) chances, yet Chelsea have only scored 49 goals. Even without taking shot-quality (xG) into account, this paints a fairly clear picture of how efficient Barcelona have been and how wasteful Chelsea have been. Efficiency in front of goal will likely decide the fate of this tie.
14 - Alvaro Morata has missed 14 big chances in the Premier League this season, only Salah (15) has missed more. Wasteful.— OptaChelsea (@OptaChels) January 3, 2018
Conte also spoke about Barcelona’s biggest threat and one of the greatest players of all time, Lionel Andrés Messi, who has quite hilariously failed to score in eight previous matches against Chelsea.
“I hope that we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player, we must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge.
“It won’t be easy because we know very well this player. We are talking about one of the best players in the world. But we for sure will work together, work with the team, but not just to try to stop him. If we focus on just man-marking Messi, it can be very dangerous.”
-Antonio Conte; source: Sky
Barcelona certainly have plenty of dangerous players, though none are quite on the level of Messi — not even the likes of Andrés Iniesta or Luis Suárez. If Chelsea can stop Messi (once again) and not just in terms of scoring, but overall contributions, it would be quite helpful.