Press Box: Conte hoping for perfect game; Valverde admits to concernsFebruary 20, 2018
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes his side will have to play the perfect game to beat Barcelona on Tuesday evening, whilst Ernesto Valverde has admitted his concerns at facing the English side.
When the Champions League round of 16 draw was announced this was the pick of the bunch, not only do both sides head into the tie with commendable records but the fixture boasts an illustrious history.
Rewind six years to when the last time these heavyweights traded blows and the archives will show Fernando Torres wheeling away in celebration as he sent Chelsea through to the Champions League final in the dying minutes.
Fast forward to 2018 and Chelsea again entertain the LaLiga giants and again head into the tie clear underdogs. Despite Antonio Conte putting his side back on track with wins over West Brom and Hull City, the Italian has the odds stacked against him.
Conte hoping for perfect game
“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.” he told reporters.
“We have to play a perfect game against Barcelona if we want to win. On paper you start these two games with one favourite and this is Barcelona, so it was difficult to sleep well after the FA Cup tie.
“You have to prepare everything for a game like this, from the big things to the smallest details. We have an idea. We have a plan in our heads. 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.
“It is a big challenge for us against one of the best in the world, but these two games will show us our level in this competition. We must be prepared to suffer, but also to have ambition.”
The La Liga leaders will have to fare without Philippe Coutinho who is ineligible after featuring in the group stage for Liverpool and Nelson Semedo who losses out due to suspension.
Thomas Vermaelen and Ousmane Dembele are set to travel to London following their comeback from injuries, with the latter looking to compete with Paulinho for a start on the right flank.
With one Spaniard proving the difference last time, Conte may opt to recall Alvaro Morata to the starting line-up following his return to fitness for Olivier Giroud.
Marcos Alonso comes back into the home side after a three-game absence but Tiemone Bakayoko is unlikely to feature.
There are also doubts for David Luiz and Ross Barkley as the duo look to gain match fitness.
Valverde admits to concerns over facing Chelsea
“We wish Chelsea had finished first in their group so we didn’t have to play them,” Valverde said. “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.”