Friday, September 21

Premier League

Preview: Barcelona vs. Chelsea - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides predicted lineups, team news and a full match preview of Wednesday's Champions League tie between Barcelona and Chelsea at Camp Nou.

Barcelona and Chelsea head into the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie at Camp Nou with the score locked at 1-1 after a fiercely-contested draw at Stamford Bridge last month.

In three of the last seven seasons, either the Catalan giants or the Blues have won this competition, and both Ernesto Valverde and Antonio Conte will feel that progression through this fixture will make their respective side a strong contender to reach the final in May.


Barcelona

Since the middle of January, Barcelona have been far from their scintillating best - form which has not been produced on a consistent basis under the guidance of Ernesto Valverde - but results continue to be churned out and there is little reason to suggest that the same will not occur on Wednesday night.

Barcelona are now 13 matches unbeaten since their surprise defeat at Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final and while they have not shown that much of a clinical touch in the final third, just five goals have been conceded.

The Catalan outfit have failed to defeat to Chelsea in their last eight meetings but with results currently the main priority over style of play, it could be argued that Barca have never been so well prepared to record a victory against Chelsea over the course of 90 minutes.

At the weekend, Lionel Messi was forced to withdraw from the squad to face Malaga due to the birth of his child, but the Argentine's absence could be regarded as a blessing in disguise with another rest given to a player who has already played 41 games for club and country this season.

No Messi also meant another opportunity for Ousmane Dembele to get more minutes under his belt, with the French international getting more than 80 minutes on the pitch for just the second time in his Barcelona career.

Dembele's start to life at Camp Nou has been hindered through injury and the arrival of Philippe Coutinho but with the Brazilian ineligible for the Champions League, it means that the 20-year-old can still have a significant impact at his new club before the end of the campaign.

Recent form: WWDDWD
Recent form (all competitions): WDWDWW


Chelsea

Chelsea went into this tie as the clear underdogs and that remains the case ahead of a daunting trip to Camp Nou, but Conte's team proved in the first leg that they are capable of creating opportunities against the Spanish giants.

Only a mistake at the other end of the pitch gifted Barcelona the away goal that they craved but while Willian deserved to get on the scoresheet early in the second half, the Brazilian's two strikes which hit the woodwork before the break could prove to be the difference in this tie.

More often than not, you need an element of luck to get the better of Barca and Chelsea were devoid of it at Stamford Bridge, but the 2012 winners have shown in the past that they are capable of causing a surprise on a Champions League night in the South of Spain.

To go five unbeaten at the Blaugrana, Willian will likely have to continue the form which has made him Chelsea's star man since the middle of January - a period where he has scored six goals in eight matches - but the onus is also on Eden Hazard to showcase his ability on arguably the grandest stage of them all.

Hazard recently cut a frustrated figure when without the ball against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium, but there needs to be an acceptance that the same could occur on Wednesday night and the Belgian international must remain patient in order to capitalise on any openings which come his way.

As much focus needs to be placed on the defence, too. Chelsea's only clean sheets in eight matches have come against out-of-form West Bromwich Albion and Hull City at Stamford Bridge, leaving Conte with his work cut out to put together a strategy which can nullify one of the most formidable attacks in world football.

Recent form: WDLWDD
Recent form (all competitions): WWDLLW


Team News

Messi will come back into the Barcelona starting lineup to take the place of Coutinho, who has already represented Liverpool in this season's competition.

Andres Iniesta is expected to be available after making a return to training although the Spaniard may not be risked from the start, but Denis Suarez is not available due to an adductor injury.

As for Chelsea, Conte has suggested that Antonio Rudiger will be fit to make an appearance in the team having being rested against Crystal Palace due to muscle fatigue.

Cesc Fabregas could get the nod over Danny Drinkwater in midfield, while Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud may have to be content with a place among the replacements.

David Luiz is out, and January signing Ross Barkley is unlikely to play any part in the game.

Barcelona possible starting lineup:
Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Busquets, Rakitic Paulinho; Dembele, L.Suarez, Messi

Chelsea possible starting lineup:
Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Kante, Fabregas, Alonso; Willian, Pedro, Hazard


Head To Head

Wednesday's fixture will represent the 17th competitive meeting between the two clubs, with both teams having recorded five wins apiece since their first encounter in 1966.

Early matches between the sides - up until 2005 - were dominated by goals but it has been nine matches since either club managed to score more than two goals in this fixture.

Chelsea are unbeaten on their last four trips to Camp Nou, with the Blues returning to West London with a share of the spoils on each occasion.


We say: Barcelona 2-0 Chelsea

Chelsea showed in the first leg that they did not require a recognised number nine to trouble Barcelona's defence, but can the trio of Willian, Pedro and Hazard have a similar impact at Camp Nou? Possibly, but we cannot back against Barcelona, who could run out comfortable winners if they can net an early goal.


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