The round of 16 finishes up with 2 more fixtures with Besiktas squaring off against Bayern Munich at 1:00PM EST and Barcelona hosting Chelsea at 3:45 EST. All you need to know about Besiktas and Bayern is that Bayern leads 5-0 and there is no way they are blowing it. Unless you’re a fan of either team, have money on it, or is an addict of the sport there is really no reason to watch. You would be better served watching Juventus/Atalanta which is on at at the same time, who have their snow make up game and is a huge game as far as the league title is concerned, so my focus here is going to be on Barcelona vs Chelsea.
Things go to Spain tied 1-1 after they left Stamford Bridge deadlocked after Messi found a late equalizer to Willian’s opener. Chelsea went with the controversial false 9 3-4-3 formation with Hazard playing the false 9 and not going with either Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud. It seemed to work okay for Chelsea as Willian was almost unplayable in this game and was incredibly unlucky to not score another goal or two and give Chelsea a huge advantage going back to Spain. They were the better side on this day but couldn’t take better advantage of it. They let Barcelona hang around and Messi did what Messi does and performed some magic to get Barcelona back into the tie and give them a huge advantage going home, also give some credit to Andreas Christensen who gave the ball away to Iniesta who found Messi for the equalizer.
At this point people aren’t giving Chelsea much of a chance, which is understandable. Barcelona has only lost once this season and it was in the first leg of a Copa Del Rey tie, a tie they ended up winning anyway. So, for fun how can Chelsea win if they’re going to win?
I think a lot of what they have to do is the same that they did during the first leg. Soak up Barca’s pressure don’t give Messi the time and space to do Messi things, wait for the mistake, and hit them on the counter, but the one thing I would do different is give Morata a chance in this game. Anyone who follows me knows I am not a fan of Morata for various reasons, but the one thing Morata does well is that he has great movement. The one chance Chelsea has is to bunker down and hit Barcelona on the counter attack a place they were very vulnerable last season but seemingly have figured it out for the most part this season, but even so you have to try to do something. In order for that game plan to work you need to find Eden Hazard and Willian in space and let them do their thing. By adding Morata his runs can distract Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique which can open up the space for Hazard and Willian.
Also, this is a spot that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte seems to be at his best when his team doesn’t seem like they have a chance, remember back to what he got out of an awful Italy team at Euro 2016. If any manager can find a way to shock the world in this situation it’s Conte.
That being said with the road goal in hand and the fact that under manager Ernesto Valverde Barcelona is a much more pragmatic team and isn’t afraid to play defense I think we may have ourselves a very boring game which Barca will make sure that Chelsea isn’t able to get on the board and will be fine with moving on with a 0-0 result or play defense and wait for Messi and Suarez to do something magical against the Chelsea back 3 which is likely to happen at some point, especially the longer the game goes and Chelsea has to start chasing the goal it needs to advance, so if you want a score I will go with Barcelona 1-0, but I am very interested to see how this game plays out from a tactical stand point.