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Following a gripping 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, the UEFA Champions League last 16 tie between Barcelona and Chelsea looks set for a titanic second leg at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night.
There was very little between the two sides three weeks ago, with the only certainty being that the Premier League champions will have to score after Lionel Messi cancelled out Willian’s opening goal in the first leg.
Chelsea, of course, have experience of defying the odds in Barcelona, after a 2-2 draw in 2012 completed a famous semi-final victory that led to their memorable triumph, on penalties, over Bayern Munich.
It’s sure to be tough ask for them to produce a repeat, however, and here are three key clashes on the pitch that will decide which team progresses to the quarter finals.
Lionel Messi v Andreas Christensen
Despite seeing a lot of the ball at Stamford Bridge, Messi was unable to get a clear sight of goal until Christensen’s loose ball across his own penalty area.
What followed was a harrowing experience for the young Dane, as Andres Iniesta swiftly set up Messi for a chance he was never going to waste and, just like that, Chelsea’s lead was gone.
It was also the breaking of Messi’s duck against Chelsea, having previously gone eight games without scoring against the Blues, and that monkey being off his back could make him an even bigger threat, if that was possible.
It’s been a breakthrough year for Christensen, after spending the previous two seasons on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach, but this is sure to be the biggest test of his young career.
N’Golo Kante v Andres Iniesta
Despite his advancing years, Iniesta continues to be the creative hub in Barcelona’s midfield and a player Kante must not allow time on the ball.
The 33-year-old was certainly the last man Christensen would have wanted to present possession to, as Iniesta clinically made the most of the gift by laying the equalising chance on a plate for Messi.
In both Leicester and Chelsea’s title-winning seasons of the last two seasons, Kante was almost a one-man midfield, capable of breaking up opposition play as well as instigating counter attacks for his own team.
Wednesday will likely be a greater examination of his defensive capabilities and the Frenchman will have to be on his guard at all times, with Barca expected to dominate possession.
Willian v Jordi Alba
Given the attacking capabilities of both, this is likely to be a great tussle with the two players being kept extremely busy by each other.
Willian was Chelsea’s star man at the Bridge, twice striking the woodwork with wonderful efforts before making it third time lucky in the second half, as Barcelona failed to heed his warning.
The Brazilian has continued his excellent form since and is sure to be one of the Blues’ main outlets again and he will aim to give Alba as many problems as he did three weeks ago.
Conversely, Alba is likely to spend long periods in the opposition half, meaning Willian is also going to have to be every bit as disciplined as in the first leg if he is to match his previous heroics.
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