The big debate going into Wednesday’s showdown at Camp Nou is what formation Chelsea will use. Will they play a traditional striker? Or will they once again put Eden Hazard at centre-forward, as they did at Stamford Bridge and against Manchester City, despite his discomfort with it?
Antonio Conte is an old hand at pre-match press conferences and didn’t tip his hand on Tuesday. But Willian, the player representative at the presser, may not have been quite as cryptic.
Willian on Chelsea game plan: "We come here to do exactly the same job that we did at Stamford Bridge last time. We know Barca like to have the ball and play. With the ball we have to be more clinical and without the ball we have to stay compact" #CFC #FCB #UCL— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 13, 2018
If Chelsea do “exactly the same job”, does that mean they’ll also use exactly the same formation? Maybe. To be fair to Willian, he might just be repeating the mantra that his boss has implanted in all the players.
After all, Conte himself used the same lines he has before, about needing to play a perfect game, about how they almost did that before conceding at Stamford Bridge in the first leg, and that the team must be willing to suffer through long spells without the ball.
“There may be times that we suffer, but we have to stay compact and when you have the ball you must have the belief in your head and heart that you can score.”
“We have to stay in the game, but it won’t be easy. If we want to go through to the next round we must invest in the game for every moment of it.”
-Antonio Conte; Source: New York Times
Conte didn’t sugarcoat that Chelsea are at a disadvantage, having conceded an away goal at the Bridge.
Conte: "The first leg is not a good result for us; 1-1 means you need to win to go to the next round or score two goals to draw 2-2. We have to stay in the game & it won’t be easy." #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 13, 2018
The gaffer has legitimate concerns about his squad’s relative inexperience at playing huge Champions League matches. If you recall, only Gary Cahill remains from the legendary 2012 outfit, the last Chelsea team to play at Camp Nou, and he may be on the bench.
As for the rest, it will be a completely new experience. Conte wants them to see it as a positive, because that’s how coaches coach.
Conte on away trip to Barca: "Nou Camp is a fantastic stadium, a big pitch. I think that every single player when you play this type of game against Barcelona at the Nou Camp, you must be excited. A lot of my players have never played at this stadium" #CFC #UCL #FCB— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 13, 2018
Willian says he’s watched the 2012 Champions League semi-final that sent Chelsea through to the final against Bayern Munich. To his credit, he’s more interested is making new history, not dwelling on the old stuff — exactly the kind of attitude Conte is hoping to get not only from the Brazilian, but also from the rest of his squad.
Willian on Chelsea in 2012: "I was watching that game, but for me, every game is your history. This game stays in the past, tomorrow will be a new history. A new game, I think we have to do a perfect game, with the ball and without the ball" #CFC #UCL #FCB— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 13, 2018
When asked to compare Chelsea’s mercurial best player to Andres Iniesta, who’s a doubt with a hamstring injury, the boss issued what sounds very much like a challenge.
Conte asked if Hazard needs to prove he can reach Iniesta's level: "We’re talking about two different players with different careers. Iniesta won a lot in his career, Hazard has to start winning important trophies" #cfc— Liam Twomey (@liam_twomey) March 13, 2018
The players had a kick-around at Camp Nou to get a feel for the historic stadium after Tuesday’s presser. But surely this is nothing compared to what will come to them in game time, with close to 100,000 noisy people packed in there.
Barcelona is ready for Chelsea.
Are Chelsea ready for Barcelona?
Antonio Conte, a man who says he doesn’t sleep well when he’s worried about the team, claims he got his rest this time. Dare we hope that it’s a good omen?
Conte on his preparation: "For every, coach it is not simple to sleep a lot, especially for this type of game. In this case, I think I slept right, but I think we must be excited for this type of game" #CFC #UCL #FCB— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) March 13, 2018
Work. Suffer. Embrace the challenge.
And then, victory.