The first leg meeting between Barcelona and Chelsea was something of an outlier in both team’s seasons.
Barcelona are unbeaten in the league and have usually played with a consummate level of control but were rattled and a little fortunate as Willian hit both posts before opening the scoring. It was only after exploiting a defensive error that they found themselves back in the game.
Chelsea, on the other hand, have been unable to retain their title, with qualification for next year’s Champions League in serious doubt after losing four out of five Premier League games. But in the first leg, they put in an excellent performance as they nullified their opponent’s goal threat and created good opportunities.
After that 1-1 draw, the tie hangs in the balance – though Barcelona undoubtedly have the edge after Lionel Messi’s away goal. Andres Iniesta could return for Barcelona, which would be a big boost after the injury he suffered against Atletico Madrid – especially as Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have no injury concerns that will affect their first team.
Here are five things to expect:
1 A fresh and fit Lionel Messi
It will be ten full days since Lionel Messi last played a competitive fixture: a game in which his free-kick against Atletico Madrid, his third in as many games, was enough for Barcelona to secure the game and, probably, the league title too.
This is extremely rare for a footballer who has played almost every minute he's been available for, for over a decade.
In his recent outings, there has been little sign of burnout or fatigue for the Argentinian - but such rests can’t hurt. Not just for midweek European fixtures, but come the World Cup in the summer. Russia 2018 will probably be Messi’s last chance to win the biggest prize in football. He looked exhausted in Argentina's last three finals.
Having missed the weekend’s match against Malaga due to the birth of his third son, Messi might reassess what might be best for him going forward. With the title wrapped up early, and now in his 30s, he might consider that such breaks don’t have to be enforced by family emergencies, but what’s best for his body.
It goes without saying that Chelsea should fear the best player on the planet, but a fully fit and fresh Messi is even more formidable.
2 Chelsea to take inspiration from last visit
It can be awfully tempting to draw on history when it comes to a fixture that has given us so many memorable moments and occasions in the modern era.
Call me sceptical, but the relevance of head-to-head records stretching back years when teams have long since changed their entire squads.
From their Champions League winning team of 2012, only two players remain in Chelsea’s squad - Gary Cahill and David Luiz (via PSG and back). Cahill was substituted in the 12th minute, and David Luiz was absent through injury, in Chelsea’s last visit to the Camp Nou when they upset the odds to get a 2-2 draw and qualify for the final.
This season, both have been ousted from Chelsea’s back three and will be unlikely to feature here.
With a succession of different managers since then too, what exactly 2012 should tell us about this meeting is precisely nothing.
But this Chelsea can draw inspiration from their predecessors and former teammates. Eden Hazard could do with a burst forward and finish like Ramires that night, whilst the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta and Cesc Fabregas will need to show the leadership and authority of figures like Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.
3 A strong Barcelona defence
Barcelona’s defence has been superb this season. Only Atletico Madrid have conceded fewer goals in Europe’s top five leagues.
Samuel Umtiti has stepped up a level to become a truly elite centre-half. Sergi Roberto continues to adapt and has done enough in the role to keep his place of the more conventional right-back Nelson Semedo. Meanwhile, mainstays Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba have regained the form that has won them so many trophies at the club.
Chelsea need to score at the Camp Nou in order to progress. That might just be a more daunting task than keeping Messi and Luis Suarez from scoring; Barcelona have kept 14 clean sheets and conceded just seven in 20 games at the Camp Nou this season.
4 Conte to stick or twist?
Conte’s gameplan worked almost to perfection in the first leg, but whether he looks to repeat that this time remains to be seen.
The task is different this time, not least playing in the imposing and suffocating Camp Nou, but Chelsea’s task is more clear. They need to score and only win or a high-scoring draw will do. Will that change their approach?
Chelsea’s shape in the first leg was magnificent, and it helped get the most out of Willian. It underutilised Eden Hazard however, who is Chelsea’s most talented and dangerous forward, and offers little as a false nine. The Belgian complained after a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City. He said: “We could have played on for three hours and I wouldn't touch the ball.”
Barcelona might not play with quite the same sophisticated possession that Guardiola now instils in Manchester anymore, but it will be a variation of that story.
Chelsea were completely nullified against Manchester City. With them needing to score as opposed to contain, can they afford to play the same game again?
Conte might decide the best approach is to get the best out of Hazard. In doing so, he needs to use a traditional centre forward. Olivier Giroud offers physicality and an ability to hold the ball up whereas Alvaro Morata on his day offers brilliant capability on the counter. But can he be trusted on such an occasion when his confidence looks shot to pieces?
5 Dembele ready to make the difference
Against Malaga at the weekend, Barcelona finally saw glimpses of what they were expecting when they broke their transfer record to sign the 20 year old from Borussia Dortmund. He looked fearless and willing to take players on, linking up well with Philippe Coutinho in particular.
Recurring injuries have denied Ousmane Dembele an opportunity to integrate properly and make much of a contribution in Barcelona’s season so far, but Ernesto Valverde has hinted he could play a part in the run-in.
He’s not done enough yet to make the manager reconsider the 4-4-2 system that has worked so well so far, and he is likely to retain Paulinho in the narrow midfield four.
However, if Antonio Conte is able to carry his gameplan with the same effectiveness at the Camp Nou, his pace and skill could be vitally important from the bench. If Barcelona are pushing for a vital late winner, what better time could there be for him to score his first goal for the Blaugrana.
He didn’t feature at Stamford Bridge after it looked like both teams were happy to take the draw back to the return leg. That can’t be the case again as the sides eye a spot in the Champions League last eight.
Let us know your prediction in the comments section below.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?