Big Match Focus: Chelsea v Barcelona

Chelsea will be the latest team to try and stop Lionel Messi when Barcelona visit Stamford Bridge in the UEFA Champions League last-16 on Tuesday.

The Blues have recovered from a recent blip with resounding victories over West Brom (3-0) in the Premier League and Hull (4-0) in the FA Cup, after back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth (3-0) and Watford (4-1).

After shipping seven goals in those two losses, Antonio Conte’s side have kept two clean sheets in a row which comes as a welcome boost ahead of the Barca tie.

Conte admits his players will have to work their socks off to restrict Lionel Messi and company, while making intelligent use of the ball when they do have possession. 

“We must pay great attention, but at the same time we must have ambition to play our type of football,” the Italian said in his pre-match press conference.

“We know Barcelona’s characteristics. They like to have possession of the ball and to dominate the game. In every game they create many chances to score.

“We must be prepared to suffer without the ball, to be compact, not lose our heads during the game. Then with the ball we try what we know, what we’ve tried during training.”

The Catalan giants went through the first half of the season unbeaten, before their impressive run was ended with a 1-0 defeat to neighbours Espanyol in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.

Ernesto Valverde’s men bounced back to knock the Periquitos out of the competition and went on to reach a fifth successive final, where they face Sevilla.

They remain undefeated in La Liga, where they hold a seven-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid, who cut the gap after Barca were held to successive draws by Espanyol (1-1) and Getafe (0-0), before bouncing back with a 2-0 win against Eibar on Saturday.

Valverde wants away goals to take back to the Camp Nou for the second leg and will tweak the system in an attempt to unlock the champions of England.

“It’s tough to score away from home. We’re planning to change our dynamic a little bit away from home,” the Spaniard told the press. “They’re physical, they defend well. They’ve got players who can hit you well on the counterattack.

“Tomorrow is a new page, it’s the Champions League and we want to qualify. Chelsea have a very distinct style of play, like most teams in the Premier League. We need to bear that in mind. We’ll see tomorrow. Let’s see if they stick to what they do normally.”

In team news, the hosts welcome back Marcos Alonso, who missed the last three games with an ankle injury. However, Tiemoue Bakayoko (unspecified knock) and Ross Barkley (hamstring) are rated doubtful, while David Luiz remains unavailable.

Nelson Semedo is suspended for the visitors, who must also do without the cup-tied Philippe Coutinho, but they have an otherwise fully-fit squad.

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