Chelsea can still surprise at Camp Nou
If you had asked Chelsea fans before kick-off in their first leg Champions League tie against Barcelona, many would have accepted a 1-1 draw as a good result. While it gives them a chance in the return leg on March 14, it was still widely seen as a missed opportunity for Antonio Conte’s men.
Chelsea had the chances to win the match. Willian, who was arguably the best player on the pitch, hit the post twice before putting the Blues into the lead with a fine finish into the bottom right-hand corner. They were the superior side, but they were left lamenting their sloppiness at the back which gifted Lionel Messi his equaliser.
While that made for a strange atmosphere at Stamford Bridge at the end of the match, hope still remains for Chelsea. Few teams come away from the Camp Nou with a positive result, but the way Chelsea set-up can cause Barcelona problems. Hazard and Willian, in particular, will be key to Chelsea’s hopes in the return leg. Both players were excellent in the first leg, with Barca struggling to cope with their effervescence and industry.
Barcelona clear favourites with bookmakers to progress
While Chelsea can take a lot of confidence from the first leg performance, the bookmakers seem to disagree. They have priced Barcelona at odds of 1/6 (William Hill) to qualify for the quarter finals, with Chelsea available at 7/2. Barcelona are priced at 1/2 and Chelsea at 5/1 to win in 90 minutes. The draw is available at a tempting 10/3. There are still free bets available to use on the Champions League, so check them out to back either side.
Speaking of odds, the bookmakers have probably gone one to step too far in placing Barcelona as second favourites at 4/1 behind Man City (7/2) to win the Champions League outright. Are they really a better bet than Bayern Munich (9/2), a team that is already almost guaranteed a quarter final spot after demolishing Besiktas? Make no mistake about it, Barcelona still have a big job to do before thinking about their sixth Champions League title.
Barcelona’s home record speaks for itself
Those who give Chelsea no chance will point to Barcelona’s incredible home record. They remain unbeaten in La Liga this season and have gone 24 matches without defeat. However, there are signs that they can be exposed, even at Camp Nou. Celta Vigo gave them a really rough ride in December in La Liga, coming away with a 2-2 draw – a scoreline that would send Chelsea through if they can match it.
This Barcelona side is also very different to the all-conquering team of a few years ago. They no longer ‘suffocate’ their opponents in the same manner as they did under Pep Guardiola. They tend to use the ball more efficiently and the defence is much better protected. It is a moot point as to whether or not this is a better Barcelona side, because the styles are so contrasting. What is evident though, is that Chelsea should not be overrun in midfield with the same zeal as with previous Barcelona sides, which could potentially unlock the threat of Hazard and Willian.
Barcelona will not underestimate Chelsea in return leg
It is going to be difficult for Chelsea. Very difficult. However, it will not be impossible. The Barcelona players would have walked off the pitch on Tuesday knowing that they were lucky to be going back to Catalonia with a draw. They, more so than anyone else, will know the threat that Chelsea pose to them in this delicately poised second leg tie.