When the draw was announced, Antonio Conte saw it as an opportunity.
“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
Three weeks ago Chelsea got a confidence boost from the 1-1 draw at the Bridge, frustrating as it may have been. It gave the players belief that even this season’s edition could compete alongside the best of the best. As we learned in that game and the pair of results in Manchester, the margins are very small and results can hinge on the smallest of errors.
The first leg has shown that Chelsea can compete. Now we have to show that we can take the next step.
(USA viewers, please note that the start time is one hour later than you’re used to, thanks to the clock change.)
Date / Time: Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 19:45 GMT; 3:45pm EDT; 1:15am IST
Venue: Camp Nou, Barcelona, Spain
Referee: Damir Skomina — the 41 year-old Slovenian has whistled four Chelsea matches in the Champions League since 2012 (1 win, 2 draws, 1 loss), as well as the Super Cup against Atlético. He handled our 3-3 away draw to Roma in the group stage this year. He’s enormously experienced, with 50+ CL matches under his belt, including three involving Barcelona (2 wins, 1 loss). He’s been an international referee since 2003 and will be calling games in this summer’s World Cup in Russia.
Forecast: A very pleasant evening. 14°C (57°F) at kickoff, a slight chance of showers and a light wind of 13 kph (8 mph.) No wonder players want to live in Spain.
On TV: BT Sport 2 (UK); FOX Sports 1, ESPN Deportes (USA); Sony Ten HD 2 (India); elsewhere
Streaming online: BT Sport Live (UK); FOX Soccer Match Pass , WatchESPN (select markets) (USA); Sony LIV (India)
Team news Chelsea: A clean bill of health, except for David Luiz. Antonio Rüdiger was out on Saturday with muscle fatigue. That’s a fancy way of saying he was being rested. He’s back and available, as is Tiémoué Bakayoko. Barkley is healthy but Conte has said he’s taking it very slowly with him, so he may be unlikely to see action.
Team news Barcelona: We know that Andres Iniesta has been racing to be fit for this one after pulling his hamstring a week ago Sunday, and he might be close to winning it. Possible replacements include André Gomes, Ousmane Dembélé, Aleix Vidal and Paco Alcacer. Denis Suárez, another possibility, is himself out with an injury. And Philippe Coutinho, their £142 million man, is cup tied.
Iniesta trained on Monday. But at least one journalist who was at the session thinks he’ll start on the bench and might be a late sub.
.@IgnasiOliva thinks Iniesta will be on the bench for Barcelona as he recovers from his hamstring injury. Here's the verdict on #FCB going into the game against Chelsea. #CFC #UCL pic.twitter.com/W6cn8LeEvn— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 13, 2018
On Saturday, Paulinho dropped deeper to fill Iniesta’s role. Dembélé was given the start in a strong Barcelona side (which didn’t exactly make easy work of the worst team in La Liga) and Vidal replaced him in the 85th minute. After the first leg Valverde implied he wasn’t sure that Dembélé was ready for such a big stage, but he may have no choice on Wednesday.
However, this Barça team are the runaway league leaders in Spain and have enormous Champions League experience to draw upon — in general, far more than what Chelsea can offer in that department even with the likes of Cesc Fàbregas, Pedro, and Gary Cahill around.
There’s no getting around it. This one’s going to be a knee-knocker, a cover-your-eyes-and-peek-between-your-fingers kind of night. Myself, I may be hiding behind the sofa.
May the best team win, as long as that’s Chelsea.
Previously: If you need help with positive thoughts, here you go; Chelsea’s last 10 goals against Barcelona.