Chelsea entertain Barcelona in the first-leg of the Champions League round of 16 tie on Tuesday night. The Blues come into the game on the back of convincing wins over West Bromwich Albion and Hull City in the Premier League and FA Cup respectively, and this places them in a better position to tackle the threat from a Barcelona side, who are presently topping the La Liga standings – with a seven-point lead over Atletico Madrid.
Three Things to watch for:
Eden Hazard vs Lionel Messi: Though both players are miles apart in terms of individual and team achievements, Hazard has shown that he can compete with the best in the world via his exploits during the Champions League group stage. The Belgian provided a sublime assist for Alvaro Morata during their late win over Atletico Madrid, and the Blues result may hinge on his performance on the night. Meanwhile, Messi needs no introduction to the European stage, though he would want to end his eight-match scoring duck – the worst record he has possessed against any side in his professional career.
Chelsea’s unpredictable defence: The Blues’ backline has looked vulnerable at the back over the past month, and though they secured comfortable wins over West Brom and Hull, there were chances at disposal for the opposition, which they did not capitalise. With Andreas Christensen and Cesar Azpilicueta playing together, they have looked more assured, but there is still a question mark over the third central defender with both Antonio Rudiger and Gary Cahill prone to making mistakes this term.
The invaluable away goal: With the Champions League, the away goal has had a detrimental effect for the opposition in the knockout stage, and nothing can be much painful than the late leveller from Andres Iniesta at Stamford Bridge in 2009, which denied Chelsea a second-straight final appearance versus Manchester United. Chelsea conceded against both AS Roma and Atletico Madrid during the group phase, and they need to keep a better shape, even if it comes at the cost of sacrificing an attacker for an additional body in midfield.
Image – Getty