Chelsea take on Barcelona tomorrow evening in the biggest game Stamford Bridge has seen since March 2016 when PSG knocked the Blues out of the Champions League at this same stage.
It`s likely those media folks will be sharpening their itchy keyboard fingers, eagerly waiting the chance to slaughter, our beleaguered manager, Antonio Conte. But here at Chelsea Season, we believe he can get a decent result.
These big Champions League games don`t arrive that often, that last defeat, against the French side, coming in the even more fractious ‘Jose Mourinho`s last stand` season.
Mourinho had gone by the time Chelsea played PSG at the Bridge. Having grabbed a crucial away goal in the first leg of the tie, and trailing just 2-1 the game was there for the taking for Guus Hiddink’s men.
As it turned out, despite a Diego Costa goal, the game was a bit of a non-event as far as Chelsea were concerned. The French side scored two more goals winning the tie 4-2 on aggregate.
So, here we are preparing to face a Barcelona side rampant in La Liga, but, by the same token, not tearing up too many trees. Chelsea can beat the Catalan`s, make no mistake, and here`s why….
In Eden Hazard Chelsea FC are blessed with one of, if not the greatest creative players currently in the game. This game will very much put the Belgian under the spotlight, and Real Madrid, as they sniff around him, will be focussing on his performance against their closest domestic rivals.
For that reason alone Barca will need to be on their guard. He`ll want to dress to impress as he eats at football`s top table. In a free-roaming role Hazard can be unplayable. With our two strikers fit and showing signs of form, that creative Hazard magic could well be the difference between the two sides.
This season against Roma, when the wheels were falling off Chelsea`s season…again, Hazard still scored two goals and put in a sublime performance. He`s at home on any stage and the Champions Leagues provides one of the biggest.
Hazard has never played a competitive game against Barcelona, unlike his club, who`ve faced many a tricky encounter. He did, however feature in a fairly competitive friendly over in the USA prior to the fabled 2015-16 season. He scored after just 10 minutes.
The Last time Eden Hazard faced Barcelona… 1,2,3,4,5 defenders.. Sensational solo goal..
Barcelona are you ready? pic.twitter.com/wrNG6o2mWg
— Mr. Jack Robinson (@jackdre02) December 11, 2017
Of course the downside, for us supporters is, a winning performance by the tricky winger and his stock rises. As the money moguls rub their hands behind the scenes, fans are left wondering how long Chelsea can hold on to him. But all that is for another day, more important right now, for Hazard, and us, is making sure he gets Chelsea into the quarter-finals of the world`s biggest domestic cup competition and….he certainly can.
Where Chelsea have Hazard, Barcelona have someone who`s, been there, done it, and bought the tee-shirt. Lionel Messi is, possibly a notch up on our Belgian winger. Tomorrow will give an indication as to who`s really top dog between the two.
For Messi though, a game against London`s top team, is not something to be relished. As I write this with crossed fingers, Lionel Messi has never scored a goal against Chelsea. Please don`t hold this against me, I`m simply stating a fact. In fact, he couldn`t even score a penalty when we put it on a plate for him in that illustrious semi-final in 2012.
Whether he scores or whether he doesn`t, Messi`s game is not all about scoring goals. He has created goals against Chelsea, just two, and both in the Champions League semi-finals, but we`ll skirt over that.
If Chelsea`s defenders can nullify the Argentinian then half the battle is won. We`ve seen in past games how the clubs` defenders and holding midfielders have looked to shut Messi out, and save for those two assists they have done.
Andreas Christensen and N`golo Kante have important roles to play tomorrow in keeping Messi quiet and maintaining his scoring duck in games against Chelsea. Of course, it won`t be easy, but in general, in games like these, Chelsea teams past and, hopefully, present will work to a mantra set out in song by Billy Ocean..When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Which brings us nicely to our third reason Chelsea can beat Barcelona. Put simply, it`s because we`re Chelsea, that`s what we do. We`ve seen these backs to the wall performances so often from our club. That do or die attitude that has seen unexpected results plucked from nowhere. Time again this great club have achieved great results.
That comeback at the Bridge against Napoli in the round of 16 in the year we became Champions of Europe. Having lost 3-1 in Naples under the austere management of Andre Villas-Boas, the installation of past great, Robbie Di Matteo, gave all the inspiration that was needed to produce a 4-1 home victory.
— Chelsea FC #Lampard (@tonyangely) August 25, 2017
That famed semi-final against Barcelona, that same year, when JT got sent off, still we came through. Onto the final in Bayern Munich`s own backyard and a win that will never be forgotten.
Say what you want about Abramovich, but somewhere in the club since his arrival, is a will to win, particularly, in the big games, that other teams, no matter how big, can match.
All teams have off days, we`ve seen that this season, but when push comes to shove, Chelsea normally come out on top in these big occasions.
And…….if all else fails, and just to be doubly sure of victory, we could always make Tiemoue Bakayoko useful by sending him off to find a laundry basket, bundling Lionel Messi inside and sitting on top of it for the duration of the game. It worked for Jose.