Round of 16 Fan Preview: Chelsea FC
12 clashes since 2000, 18 goals apiece. 4 wins for Chelsea, 3 wins for Barcelona. Far from a local derby, and far from equal historical standing, but Chelsea vs. Barcelona is one of the most exciting, intense and heated games European football can offer up.
There’s so much history: Controversy in 2005 as Jose Mourinho accuses Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard of entering referee Anders Frisk’s dressing room at half-time, Asier Del Horno’s red card challenge on Leo Messi in 2006, and of course the 6 Chelsea penalty claims turned down in 2009 by Tom Henning Ovrebo, forcing him to go into hiding. Accusations of ‘Uefalona’ never ceased.
Didier Drogba says what we all thought: ‘It’s a f–king disgrace!’
There’s nothing quite like the latter stages of the Champions League; its intensity can’t be matched. No matter who you are and how you got there, you’re just a couple of moments from club football’s biggest prize. Because of the years of controversy and competing at the highest level, although as a Chelsea fan I’m supposed to hate Tottenham, there’s really nothing like squaring off with Barcelona. This is the game I hate to lose.
Fernando Torres’ dramatic goal in 2012 felt like the exorcising of all those demons and the overcoming of injustice. Chelsea went on to win the Champions League that year—an underdog story for the ages. Since then the old guard has gone, the warriors who took Chelsea through so many of those battles have moved on and It’ll be strange trying to stop Messi & Friends without Terry, Lampard, Drogba and the rest.
What of Chelsea now, in this new era do they have the tools to beat probably the world’s best team once again? On current form it doesn’t look likely.
Barca are on a high right now, achieving a club-record 22-game unbeaten start to LaLiga. Chelsea aren’t. Conte’s on the edge, fans are divided and most of the players are underperforming. Depending on who you listen to, it’s because Conte’s overly criticised the players in public, the squad simply isn’t good enough, the players want Conte sacked so won’t perform, they are exhausted from his training methods, or there’s just no leaders in the squad. Everyone has their own theory and wants a different person sacked. There’s no real consensus.
Chelsea’s play is stifled, the players lack creativity and impetus, quite frankly it’s boring to watch. Goals are hard to come by, and just as bad, the defence is leaking.
Alvaro Morata was brought in from Real Madrid as the big-money replacement for Diego Costa’s goals. After a brief flurry the Spaniard’s slowed down (and missed dozens of chances in the process) to the point that very few fans seem convinced he’s up to the task. Olivier Giroud arrived from Arsenal in January to share the burden. At the time of writing he’s only started one game despite Morata’s absence through injury.
So how do Chelsea score against a team who have only conceded 11 times in LaLiga? It’s mostly down to the talisman Eden Hazard. Whether you think ‘Hazard FC’ is what the club should be renamed after its only good player, or a group of awful fanboys who aren’t real Chelsea fans, it’s clear to all that if the Belgian’s on form Chelsea look a lot more like scoring. No one else ties together play, creates openings and pulls goals out of nowhere like Hazard.
In defence, Andreas Christensen is Chelsea’s revelation of the season. It took injuries and suspensions for the Dane to get a run of games but he seized his opportunity with both hands and removed David Luiz from the starting XI. His recent injury and the shipping of goals don’t appear to be a coincidence. Every Chelsea fan will be hoping he’s fit on the 20th of February.
There’s other issues too. Fabregas—one of the few players capable of creating goal-scoring opportunities—has also been injured. Victor Moses and Davide Zappacosta are struggling and have a reinvigorated Jordi Alba to deal with on their flank. Danny Drinkwater’s not offering much at all and £40M signing Tiemoue Bakayoko looks like he won’t last five minutes against Barcelona’s midfield (he lasted 30 against Watford’s). Just search his name on Twitter and you’ll get an idea of how poorly he’s playing.
Despite these and many, many more problems there’s hope. There’s always hope.
Lionel Messi, the (possible) GOAT of football has never scored against Chelsea in eight attempts. No other club has denied Messi more than four times. To let this slip would feel almost as bad as losing the game itself. Watching him score against Petr Cech for Arsenal after ~9 hours of Messi clean sheets for Chelsea was bad enough.
It doesn’t look great for Chelsea, but then again it rarely does, and if anyone can stop Messi it’s us.
Writer: Alex McGovern/@amcgovern25
Photo: Getty Images