Champions League: Hazard and Pedro believe Chelsea can beat Barcelona
Lionel Messi and Co head to Stamford Bridge for tonight’s first leg
Barcelona may go into the Champions League round of 16 as favourites to beat Chelsea but the Premier League side are confident of progressing over two legs.
The Spanish giants are seven points clear at the top of La Liga and 31 games unbeaten in the league. Under manager Ernesto Valverde, this is a “new and improved Barca vintage”, says Andy West on the BBC, and they are “looking good, very good” both at home and in Europe.
However, both Eden Hazard and Pedro, a former Barcelona player, believe Chelsea have what it takes to win over two legs. Speaking ahead of tonight’s first leg at Stamford Bridge, Hazard says Chelsea should “go for it”.
Quoted by The Guardian, Hazard said: “If you want to be one of the best, you have to play well in the big games. This is a big game and we are Chelsea. We are the champions of England. We are ready. We can face them, we can beat them. Let’s go for it.”
Hazard’s team-mate Pedro played for Barcelona when Chelsea beat them over two legs in the 2012 Champions League semi-finals and the winger believes his current club should take heart from that performance six years ago.
“It was so frustrating,” Pedro told the Guardian when asked about Barca’s loss to Chelsea in 2012. “A very sad day for me, for Barcelona, for all of us. Chelsea were always horrible opponents: compact, strong in defence, pressing very well. We always found it difficult against them.
“Barcelona’s players will be thinking this tie is going to be very tough because Chelsea are still strong, still compact. It was incredible for me to have played in such a special team but now I defend the badge on the Chelsea shirt with great honour and pride. I hope to go through on this tie. And we can take plenty from memories of that match [in 2012] and what can be achieved.
“It’s not impossible for us to beat Barcelona and go through. It’s difficult because they’re a great team, but not impossible.”
Hazard on Messi
A lot of the pre-match reporting has been about Lionel Messi’s record of never scoring against Chelsea. But another back story is the Argentine going head-to-head with Hazard in a so-called “clash of the playmakers”.
Hazard says it’s good to be compared with players such as Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and he wants to impress on the big stage in his first ever match against Barcelona. “There is more to come from me in this competition,” said the Belgian. “Every game I try to play my best football, in the Premier League and, after we didn’t play in the Champions League last season, back [at this level] this year. I’ve played a few good games this season: Atletico Madrid away, Roma here, and against Madrid.
“You want to shine when you play the best in the world. If I want to reach that level, I need to do a great game. It’s good to be compared with the greatest ever, Messi or Ronaldo. But I’m completely different. I try to do my job and try to reach their level, because they are the best in the world.”
What the managers think
Chelsea have the upper hand against Barca with four victories in 12 matches compared to the Spaniards’ three wins. Blues boss Antonio Conte says his team must have a perfect performance to beat Barca and the huge task ahead has given the Italian some sleepless nights in the run-up.
Conte told Sky Sports: “In these days after the game in the FA Cup, I must be honest, it was a bit difficult to sleep well. When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare. You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too.
“We have an idea. We have a plan in our heads. I think that, in this specific moment, it’s very important to pick the players who are at the top of their form and then try and do our best to win the game.
Conte also believes that while Messi is a huge threat, his side must also focus on trying to exploit Barca when they don’t have the ball. He told the London Evening Standard: “We are speaking about one of the best teams in the world. We have to try to have the perfect game and to try to make the best decisions also for this type of team.
“This is a different opponent. They have a fantastic characteristic with the ball, but they can have a weakness without the ball and we must try to exploit this.”
Barcelona boss Valverde praised Conte’s tactical nous and admits that when the last-16 draw was made he did not want to face Chelsea.
“We wish Chelsea had finished first in their group so we didn’t have to play them,” Valverde told the Guardian.
“They’re the Premier League champions, a very strong team there on merit. English teams this year are in incredible form, much better than in previous years. Chelsea might be the same. We know that, because the English have such a strong league, they’ll all be up there competing.
“Chelsea have a unique style of football and know their own game. The English style of football is very unique, very physical, but they play good football as well.”
Chelsea vs. Barcelona
- When: tonight
- Where: Stamford Bridge, London
- Kick-off time: 7.45pm
- TV channel: live on BT Sport 2
- Head-to-head record and team news: in 12 previous matches, Chelsea have the upper hand with four victories, Barcelona have three wins and there have also been five draws
- Team news: Chelsea may be without the injured Tiemoue Bakayoko and David Luiz. Nelson Semedo is suspended for Barcelona and Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied having played in the competition for Liverpool earlier this season
Champions League last-16 first-leg fixtures
Last-16 second-leg fixtures (7.45pm unless stated)
Tuesday, 6 March
- Paris Saint Germain vs. Real Madrid
- Liverpool vs. FC Porto
Wednesday, 7 March
- Tottenham vs. Juventus
- Manchester City vs. FC Basel
Tuesday, 13 March
- Roma vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
- Manchester United vs. Sevilla
Wednesday, 14 March
- Besiktas vs. Bayern Munich (5pm)
- Barcelona vs. Chelsea