The draw for the Champions League quarterfinals takes place Friday the 16th, live from the UEFA headquarters in Nyon. Six teams have already managed to punch their tickets into the next round.
With this being the last day for fixtures in the round of 16, who will take the final two spots?
1.Barcelona vs. Chelsea
February 20th, 2018, a magical night, where the Blues executed an ambiguous gameplan vs. the Spanish giants in front of 37,741 fans. Willian was able to open the score sheet with a blast from outside the box in the 62nd minute, but the triumph was short lived. Just 13 minutes later, Chelsea’s Andreas Christiansen committed a schoolyard mistake passing the ball across his box, and the Blaugrana capitalized. A heads-up play by Andres Iniesta to not only be aggressive and attack the loose ball but to have the logic to play the ball back across to Messi rather than shooting the ball at a bad angle. The ninth encounter served to be the lucky one for the world’s best #10, as he was finally able to score vs. the Blues. Losing the possession battle is a given when playing Barca, but Antonio Conte’s counter-attacking gameplan worked perfectly for the majority of the match. The English club was able to surrender 73% of possession but still managed to have more shots with 11, to Barcelona’s 7. The intent was to minimize spaces allowing Barca to play their ticky-tacky style of passing football but ultimately not allowing the attackers to get behind them. 17 total fouls were called on the Blues, and this was a pivotal strategy throughout the match in slowing the game down and helping their defenders be in place when Barca attacked. The Spanish side completed more than 3 times the amount of passes in the match (825-259), and still, they managed to cover less ground on those passes giving merit to our theory, let them touch it back and forth, but don’t give up through balls behind you and in the gaps. One mistake is all it took, and the Chelsea manager is well aware of it.
“I think that it was very close, we made only one mistake,” explained Conte. “As you know very well when you make a mistake against Barcelona – the best players like Messi, [Luis] Suarez and [Andres] Iniesta -you pay [for it].
“It’s a pity because I’m very proud of the players for the game and they followed what we prepared and planned. I also think tonight we were a bit unlucky – maybe we deserved a bit more.
“I think in the second leg, we have to play our game against Barcelona. This team is very strong – a fantastic team – but I think the final result is open.
“It will be very difficult because it’s not simple to play away against them, but at the same time I think our performance must give us confidence.”
Reading into Conte’s comments, you feel a sense of confidence that the team can get a result at in Spain. Chelsea’s overall record vs. Barcelona is 4-4-3, but none of the wins occurred at Camp Nou. Barca is currently on a 12-game unbeaten run in all competitions, all while scoring 26 times and only conceding 5 goals during the streak. Since the meeting February 20th, Chelsea is 1-2 and only scored 3 total goals in the 3 matches.
Playing at home in the first leg with the ability to dictate the speed of the game was crucial for Conte’s side to exercise their gameplan. But after giving up the away goal, and needing to get a result from the opening whistle, the calmness the team played with a Stanford Bridge won’t be there. Needing to go out and find the game will sequentially decide this game. We say in sequence because we don’t see Conte exactly opening up the game early. As time passes and if they haven’t found a way to the back of the net, the team will have to play out of their scheme. Having the second leg on home soil has assisted the Blaugrana in recent history, where when settling 2 legged ties at home, they have advanced on 7 of the last 10 occasions.
Messi is cut out for these types of matches and the short passes will eventually frustrate the visiting team that is in need of a goal. The need to have possession is what will cost Chelsea the match.
Barcelona -1 -140
Barcelona TT over 2 -115
Both teams to score -118
Barcelona advance future pending
2. Besiktas vs. Bayern Munchen
The first leg ended 5-0 and with such a big margin these games are hard to predict. Besiktas coach has been shouting all week that his team will come out and play with pride, and get a respectable result. Does that mean they don’t want to get blown out again, or does that mean they are going to try and score 5 goals leaving this game wide open? Too many variables for me.