Sports

Barcelona and Chelsea prepare for another nerve-wracking encounter

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KATHMANDU :

Barcelona travels to the Stamford Bridge on Tuesday for the first leg of their round of 16 clash with Chelsea, in a bid to put one foot on the quarterfinals with a win in London.

Barcelona hasn’t still lost a single game in Europe or in the domestic league, well, the Catalan side succumbed to a 1-0 loss away at the Cornella nearly a month ago, but has won six matches and drawn two after that, so it’s fair to say that Barcelona is a top contender for the much-anticipated clash.

Chelsea, on the other hand, is going through a rough patch lately. Despite the reigning English Champions’ two back-to-back wins over West Bromwich Albion and Hull City in the league and the FA Cup inside four days, Chelsea has struggled to keep upto the pace with the runaway league leaders Manchester City, as they are 19 points short of City with 27 games already played.

Chelsea did not get 2018 to a flyer with drawing the first five games in league and cups, and their first win of the new year coming straight on January 20 away to Brighton and Hove Albion in the league. It’s already the middle of February, but Chelsea has only won four games so far, and has lost three, among which was a 2-1 away loss to Arsenal in the EFL Cup, which saw them crash out of the competition in the semifinals. 

So, considering all the heats and discussions, all the matches that have a psychological impact on both the supporters, and the rivalry these clubs possess, the match will be a treat to the eyes. Barcelona will be hoping for getting past Chelsea and marching towards the treble, while the English side would be hoping to restore some parity in their troubled season, and not concede any goals in London.

Team news
Barcelona will be without Nelson Semedo, who is suspended for the first leg after he reached the maximum number of cards throughout the group stage matches, while Thomas Vermaelen is doubtful for the clash, but was seen training. New signing Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied as he had already played for Liverpool this season.

Barcelona will most likely feature with Marc-Andre ter Stegen in goal, with Sergi Roberto and Jordi Alba in right and left fullback roles respectively. The other pairings might include Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti.

The midfield will be very much the expected one with Sergio Busquets guarding the backline, Ivan Rakitic and Iniesta further ahead in the center of the park, if Barca coach Ernesto Valverde opts for a three-man midfield formation. But, if Valverde wants to go with a four-man midfield, he would field Paulinho with the other three above mentioned midfielders.

The forward line might be very much of the same with Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, but if Valverde wants to go with some width in the match, he’d most likely field Ousmane Dembele instead of Paulinho.

As for Chelsea, David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko are out of the contention with injuries, while Ross Barkley might feature for the Blues.

Chelsea might field Thibaut Courtois will most likely be the first-choice goalkeeper for Antonio Conte, with Antonio Rudiger, Cesar Azpilicueta and Andreas Christensen in the center back roles, while Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso on the wing-back roles. Chelsea might include N’Golo Kante and former Barca midfielder Cesc Fabregas in the center of the park, along with Willian and Eden Hazard as wide midfielders. Conte might also start with former Barca player Pedro Rodriguez. Upfront, it’s a serious question of who’ll start. Alvaro Morata has not been playing well, and Giroud has been bought, so either of them might start for Chelsea.

Head-to-head
Chelsea and Barcelona have faced each other 11 times in the past, with the English team winning four times, Barcelona winning just two, and five ending in draws.

In the last seven meetings between these sides, Chelsea has won three and four matches have ended in draws.

In the group A match on October 18, 2006, Chelsea defeated Barcelona 1-0, while the corresponding fixture on October 31 of the same year, was a 2-2 draw.

In the 2009 semifinal first leg, it was a 0-0 draw in the Camp Nou, while the second leg was a 1-1 draw in the Bridge, which saw Barcelona cruise towards the final on away goal and win it 2-0 against another English team Manchester United.

Lastly, in the 2012 semifinal, Chelsea won the first leg with a 1-0 scoreline at home, and it drew 2-2 at the Camp Nou and reached the final that time, which saw Chelsea lifting the title with a 4-3 penalty shootout win over Bayern Munich,

Recent form
Barcelona has not beaten Chelsea since February 22 of 2006, and the Catalan side might want to change the stats this time around.

Chelsea will be hoping to get things straight in their campaign this time with a win over Barcelona.

The game will be a cracker, given the fact that Lionel Messi has not scored a single goal against Chelsea, who is the only English team to deny Messi.

Published : 20 February 2018 , 11 : 23 am