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FC Barcelona take on English champions Chelsea on Wednesday to complete the round of 16 fixtures of this season’s Champions League. Having picked up an away goal in the reverse fixture through Lionel Messi, they will fancy their chances and understandably, will go down as favourites.
23 out of 34 sides that have drawn the away fixture with a 1-1 scoreline have gone on to progress in the tournament. However, Blaugrana haven’t won in any of their previous four home meetings with the Blues. On the brighter side, the Catalan giants have lost just four of their 39 Champions League knockout fixtures at home, their latest defeat coming almost 10 years back. If they hit the top gear again, it could well be over for a Chelsea side that is struggling to find consistency and replicate its title-winning form.
Philippe Coutinho is ineligible to play. Andres Iniesta trained on Monday and is nearing a return. Elsewhere, Nelson Semedo, Denis Suarez and Sergi Samper are all ruled out.
Barcelona should go with their usual 4-4-2 structure and moreover, will aim to outnumber the Blues in the midfield, work it till the final third and use the likes of Messi to take them further down the pitch.
Arguably the best in Europe this season, Ter Stegen will start in goal for Barcelona.
Roberto’s presence, discipline and cleverness will be seen at right-back.
Umtiti will play as one of the two centre-halves. He is robust, physical and can shrug players away with his shoulder strength.
Pique will guide the defence, clear the lines, track the runs and use his man marking skills. He will organise the back four.
Alba’s intelligence and all-round abilities will come in handy for the Catalans.
The pass master should play down the left-wing if he returns straight to the starting XI.
Busquets will direct the play, protect his defence and win possession back. He will occupy the heart of the midfield.
Rakitic will look to manoeuvre the ball into empty channels, take charge of set-piece duties and fill up spaces in the midfield.
Given Paulinho’s recent form, his previous performance against Chelsea, and Dembele’s super staging against Malaga, the explosive winger is likely to occupy the right flank.
Messi will carry the ball forward, drop deeper, run into empty spaces, create chances and look to take his side into the last eight. He is a sure starter.
Has gone 881 minutes without a Champions League goal but the footballing world knows full well that he just needs one chance, one opening to kill any side. He will lead the line alongside the legendary Messi.