It’s that time again… Barcelona versus Chelsea. Barcelona fans will remember the heartbreak suffered at the hands of Fernando Torres in 2012 when he rounded Victor Valdes, and sank all our collective hearts. It seems as though the previous knockout stage match-ups have led to great intrigue, fantastic games (who can ever forget the Andres Iniesta one timer into the top right corner), and critical moments for the histories of both clubs. While the players and coaches have changed, this year’s fixture is guaranteed to be a quality match-up.
One major talking point leading up to the two legs is of course, Lionel Messi. In eight games versus Chelsea, Messi has had 29 shots on goal and still has not scored. To put that into perspective, in 16 games against English opposition Messi has 17 goals. In 606 career appearances, Messi has 525 goals, which equates to .87 goals per game he has played in. Following that statistic, Messi should be nearing seven goals in his career against Chelsea, but instead sits at zero. Additionally, not only did not have a goal from free play, but in 2012, Messi missed a penalty that would have seen Barcelona through to the next round.
While Messi’s goalscoring exploits haven’t carried over in his career against Chelsea, his dominance has still been felt and most certainly will in February. The present Chelsea team could prove a more daunting challenge than previous squads, with the Italian, Antonio Conte at the helm.
While Conte’s team certainly has the attacking prowess with Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata, and even former Barcelona player, Pedro; Conte’s teams pride themselves on their defensive capabilities. So far in the Premier League this year, the defense has seven clean sheets and are only allowing 0.82 goals per match in a league that is admired for its competition and great play throughout the division.
Looking further into Chelsea’s title winning campaign from last year, their defense was again, astute. In 38 games played, Chelsea produced 16 clean sheets and only allowed 0.87 goals per match. Clearly, Conte prides himself on his ability to set up his defense in a way that will stifle opposing teams. Will Messi be able to produce a moment of magic and break through? Possibly, but only time will tell.
Another aspect that will certainly affect not only Messi’s ability to score but also the entire teams is Ernesto Valverde’s tactics. As seen in previous high profile matches, Valverde has set up his team in a more defensive manner, willing to win but expecting a draw.
After ties versus Juventus, Valencia, and Atletico Madrid, it is clear that this Barcelona team is stronger in the midfield and defense, but this can affect their ability to score. While Messi is certainly capable of inspiring play, the team must be tactically ready to support him.
In essence, we have heard of several “curses” that Messi was under… Buffon, Cech, Manchester City… but each time the Argentinian maestro has proved that “curses” are for the ordinary… and not for him.
In the coming months, we will see this Barcelona team begin to develop further and adjust to Valverde’s tactics. One thing is for certain, come February, Messi will be looking to end his goal drought… will Chelsea be able to stop him? Visca Barca.