Tuesday night sees one of, if not the No. 1 European rivalry enter another intriguing chapter.
The last time the sides met was back in 2012 when the Blues went on to win the Champions League for the first time in their history. The Blaugrana won the title just three years ago win they dispatched Juventus, winning 3-1.
The Catalans are the overwhelming favourites, as per usual. Given Barca have the greatest player of all time Lionel Messi playing along with Luis Suarez, Chelsea’s backline could be in for one hell of a night. Suarez was ruthless against the English champions during his days at Liverpool. This will be the Uruguayan’s first meeting with the Pensioners since his move from Anfield.
On the plus side for the home team, Ousmane Dembele is expected to miss the game due to injury and club record signing Philippe Coutinho is cup tied following his stellar performances in the competition for the Reds.
Defence has never been the La Liga leaders’ strong point. Despite the experience of Gerard Pique, the tendency of the Catalan side’s full-backs, in particular Sergi Roberto, has left the defence wide open on occasion. Having come through the ranks at La Masia, Cesc Fabregas should, however, know the ins and outs of how to catch Barcelona out.
The Spaniard’s passing ability could be crucial to Chelsea getting one over on their Catalan counterparts. With the quality of Eden Hazard and the innate desire to beat Real Madrid’s biggest rival being instilled in Alvaro Morata, Chelsea fans could be about to witness another famous Champions League triumph in west London.
Perhaps the most intriguing battle will be the attacking prowess of Messi in comparison to that of Hazard. The latter has been compared to the former by many pundits and Tuesday night is a real chance for him to prove that. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner has yet to score against Chelsea and will be looking to eradicate that stat.
Having been linked with a move away from the club, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea career could be on the line here too. He has struggled to reproduce the standards of last year’s title-winning campaign and former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique has been linked with the post.
Should the former Juventus boss pull off a positive result and go on to qualify for the last eight following the second leg, his job will certainly be a lot safer.
The Catalan giants have had a much better campaign than their London rivals. They currently sit seven points clear at the top of La Liga while the English champions are clinging on to the final Champions League qualification spot.
With Manchester United, Tottenham and Liverpool all playing well, Chelsea’s best chance of European qualification may actually be to win their second European crown, as was the case under Roberto Di Matteo’s reign.
All in all, it’s difficult to see past a Barca win. Chelsea fans, however, are clinging on to many coincidental superstitions. For instance, the last time they played the return leg in the Nou Camp they progressed before getting the better of Bayern Munich on penalties in the final.
Perhaps the biggest superstition currently doing the rounds is that Cuneyt Cakir has been named as Wednesday night’s referee. He famously sent John Terry off in the 2012 semi-final, which the ten brave men in blue managed to come back from.
One thing is for certain, this game is going to another fantastic chapter in this unique continental rivalry between two of European football’s powerhouses.