Chelsea v Barcelona: Conte and his players to rise to the occasion

Antonio Conte will love this kind of challenge
Antonio Conte will love this kind of challenge
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All eyes will be on Stamford Bridge for Tuesday's showdown between Chelsea and Barcelona and Paul Robinson thinks that it will be an extremely tight match-up...

"There shouldn’t be too much between these two sides on the night, and I would expect a cagey affair as Conte will be happy for his players to allow Barcelona plenty of the ball."

Back The Draw @ 3.55/2

Chelsea v Barcelona
Tuesday 20 February, 19:45 GMT
Live on BT Sport

Recent wins give Blues a boost

The Blues have returned to form at just the right time as their biggest game of the season to date is upon them. They managed to put back to back defeats behind them by easing past West Brom in the league and Hull in the cup, and while their opponents on a whole other level to those two, at least they are coming into it on a high.

When the draw was made for the Group stage of this competition, it was far from a certainty that Chelsea would make it this far. That isn't a knock on them, but they were drawn with both Roma and Atletico Madrid, so one of them had to bow out early. The Spanish side were the losers in that battle, and the Londoners will no doubt be hoping that that is an omen.

Antonio Conte welcomes back Marcus Alonso into his squad but David Luiz and Tiemoue Bakayoko are injury doubts. Even though he scored at the weekend it's more likely that Alvaro Morata will get the nod ahead of Olivier Giroud in the lone striker role, but that might not be a bad thing as Morata may be invigorated against his old Spanish foe, and Giroud has a fantastic record off the bench.

Spanish giants out to regain their crown

We have to go back all the way to 2015 since Barcelona last got their hands on this trophy, and while some may scoff at the phrasing of that statement, we are talking about the mighty Barca here and the length is compounded by the fact that it has been Real Madrid who have monopolised it since.

The power in Spanish football appears to be shifting back to Catalonia at present however as Madrid are 17 points adrift of their rivals in La Liga, and could still prove vulnerable against PSG in the second leg of their last 16 tie - despite holding a 3-1 lead.

A negative for Barcelona this evening is that Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied having already played in the Champions League for Liverpool earlier in the season. That limits their attacking options somewhat, but they didn't need him when they came through their group undefeated, with four wins and two draws.

Conte to work his magic

This is one of those games that is incredibly hard to call. The visitors are the better team in the whole - and in much better form this year - but there has been a resurgence from the English clubs in Europe this season, and Chelsea have a master tactician at the helm.

Antonio Conte knows how to dig out a result when he really needs one and it's almost as if he thrives as the underdog. His Chelsea side were written off for the title last year after a bad start, but they romped to it in the end and let's not forget Italy's performance at Euro 2016 when he was in charge.

I'll also admit that I think that Ernesto Valverde's men are flattered by their dominance in La Liga this term. They are yet to lose and have a seven point lead, but they aren't the same side as they were three or four years ago.

During the group stage, Barca only scored once in three away fixtures as they beat Sporting 1-0, before drawing 0-0 with both Olympiakos and Juventus. It seems silly to say that they aren't as dangerous going forward as the likes of Liverpool and Man City - especially when they have Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez - but that's the truth of it.

The Betfair layers have still priced them up as favourites though, at the 2.26/5 mark. A price I have no interest in whatsoever, even if Chelsea have been beaten by Burnley and Bournemouth here this season.

A home win is 3.7511/4 and as tempting as those odds are, I think I'll plump for the draw at a shade shorter - 3.55/2 to be precise. There shouldn't be too much between these two sides on the night, and I would expect a cagey affair as Conte will be happy for his players to allow Barcelona plenty of the ball. The Italian will almost certainly field a 5-3-1-1 formation, with Kane and Drinkwater patrolling the middle of the park, and I can't imagine that any of the players in blue will be dragged out of position.

Defence to reign supreme

I am definitely favouring a low-scoring affair in this game. As mentioned already, Barca's three away scorelines in the group stage were 0-1, 0-0 and 0-0. Since that last 0-0, they have played another 10 times on the road in all competitions, and the Under 2.5 count stands at seven.

Chelsea's home fixtures have had plenty of goals of late - three in a row to go over - but this is the first leg of a tie that they still need to be in for the second leg at the Nou Camp. Also, prior to their last four matches at the Bridge, eight of their previous 11 had seen Under 2.5 backers collect.

If like me you are keen on Under 2.5, it can be backed at a very generous 2.0621/20, which is a nice little bit of value. For balance, Over 2.5 goals is trading at around the 1.9420/21 mark.

2017/18 P/L (1pt each bet)

Wagered: 52pts
Returned: 55.85pts
P/L: +3.85pts

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