Barcelona made surprisingly hard work of dispatching cellar-dwellers Malaga on Saturday, winning 2-0, but playing sloppily against a side down to ten men for an hour at the Rosaleda. Similar things could be said about Chelsea’s win over Crystal Palace of course, but while Conte chose to concentrate on the positives, Barca manager Ernesto Valverde was less happy about the lack of focus and that bit of Chelsea on the brain.
“In the second half we began to subconsciously think about the match on Wednesday.
“Scoring early here was crucial, the red card made the match easier for us. We will have to suffer to progress past Chelsea.”
-Ernesto Valverde; source: Daily Mail
Valverde would have been excused for having rested players. Indeed, not only was Iniesta out, but Lionel Messi too. He was with his wife after she gave birth to their third child. And the win opened up a healthy eleven point lead at the top of table, with second place Atletico yet to play. But instead, Valverde, just as before the first leg, fielded what appears to be his strongest lineup. Luis Suarez, Busquets, Piqué, Umtiti, Rakitic, Dembélé — they all played, but not very well.
Performances don’t necessarily translate from one game to the next, but Chelsea already exposed this Barcelona as beatable in the first leg as only an unfortunate error gifted the Catalan side a way back into the match. At this level, the small things will make a huge difference.
Europe will be watching. Nerves will be stretched tight. I may have to hide behind the sofa to watch it.