It all comes down to maths.
Chelsea have a 41.3% chance of drawing Barcelona in the next stage of the Champions League.
If the Blues were to find themselves lined up against the Catalans in the round of 16, Europe would be left to hold its breath as one of the continent’s most enthralling rivalries resumes next year.
Stamford Bridge and the Camp Nou have played host to some epic battles over the past decade and a half. In 2005, Ronaldinho produced a moment of magic to poke a shot past Petr Cech and dump Chelsea out in the first phase of knockout games.
Barcelona won again in 2009 as they denied the Blues a second final appearance in a row by defeating Guus Hiddink on away goals with a late strike by Andres Iniesta.
Didier Drogba and Michael Bllack lost their rag with referee Tom Henning Ovrebo and chased the official down the wing to protest against his performance in the second leg in west London.
Then, in 2012, the Blues got their revenge at the Camp Nou as Ramires and Fernando Torres landed two suckerpunch goals on the counter to sink Lionel Messi’s side.
It proved to be Chelsea’s year as they went on to beat Bayern Munich in the final to lift the biggest prize in European club football for the first time in their history.
According to El Pais, Barcelona are the most likely opponents for Antonio Conte’s side in the round of 16 in 2018.
Mathematicians have calculated that Chelsea have a 41.3% chance of drawing the Catalans due to the narrow selection of opponents that the Premier League champions can draw and the Spanish giant’s own relatively small pool of options.
Due to rules against clubs being drawn against sides from their own country or teams they have faced in the group stage the Blues can only be selected to play against three sides – Barcelona, Besiktas and Paris Saint-Germain.
They have a 29.4% chance of being picked out of the hat to take on the Turkish champions and French league leaders, but why?
Chelsea finished second in their group. Runners-up are drawn against group winners for the round of 16. However, the Blues cannot play Roma, the team they finished behind in Group C.
Since the other four Premier League clubs in the Champions League managed to win their respective groups, five out of eight group winners are off limits for Conte, which leaves him with the aforementioned three viable picks for the first round of the knockout stages.
Why are Barcelona the favourites? They can draw five teams after finishing top of their group – Chelsea, Basel, Bayern Munich, Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk.
They have a 15.0% chance of drawing Basel or Shakhtar and a 14.4% chance of facing Bayern or Porto.
“You would think that Chelsea has a 33.3% chance of being matched with one of these three teams,” said Julien Guyon in his analysis for El Pais. “And that is what would happen if Chelsea were given special treatment at the beginning of the draw: one of the three balls would be chosen (Barca, PSG, Besiktas) to decide Chelsea’s rival but that’s not how the draw works.
“I calculated the odds of the draw by simulating the draw four million times, according to the procedure of the official draw. The draw procedure influences the odds.
“However, remember: the fact that Barcelona has a 41.3% chance of facing Chelsea also means that it has more possibilities (58.7%) of not facing him.”
Chelsea’s Champions League round of 16 draw probabilities
41.3% – Barcelona
29.4% – Paris Saint-Germain
29.4% – Besiktas