UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE
It’s nearly 16 months since FC Barcelona last faced English opposition in the UEFA Champions League match and a lot has changed at the Spanish giants since their emphatic 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in November 2016.
Tonight, when Stamford Bridge hugs the limelight in one of the two matches today, Antonio Conte strongly believes that Chelsea must play the “perfect game” to beat a formidable Barcelona in the crucial in first leg of last-16 tie.
The Premier League champions have recovered from a poor run of form, winning consecutive matches over West Bromwich Albion in the league and Hull City in the FA Cup, but Conte is not getting carried away.
“On one hand you know this team is one of the best in the world â€“ maybe they are favourites to win this competition,” Conte told British media last night.
“On the other hand we must be excited because we have a great opportunity to play a massive game against a really strong team and to show which is our level.
“.We have to try to have the perfect game, the perfect game to try to make the best decisions. For this type of team… they have fantastic characteristics with the ball. But they can have weaknesses without the ball and we have to try and exploit this.”
Barcelona’s star forward Lionel Messi has never scored in eight matches against Chelsea and Conte is eager for his team to maintain that record.
Chelsea last defeated the Spanish side in 2012 as the London outfit marched to their first Champions League title, and midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who moved to Stamford Bridge from Barcelona in 2014, is confident that Conte’s side can repeat the feat.
“They try to put the first pressure very, very high â€“ (they) always work towards the ball,” Fabregas said.
“If we can (get) past this first phase of their pressure, then we have the content to do that, and not put ourselves under too much pressure, then I think we can hurt them because they will leave a lot of spaces at the back.
“Hopefully we can give a good image of what we can do and do a good performance.”
Chelsea next travel to second-placed Manchester United in the league on Sunday.