5 players who will decide Chelsea - Barcelona first leg
Chelsea and Barcelona are set to face each other for the thirteenth time in this century in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. While the Spanish side boast of several superstars compared to the Londoners, it is the English side who have the better head-to-head record with four wins and five draws in 12 previous meetings.
Barcelona come into the tie unbeaten in La Liga and have already reached the Copa del Rey finals. On the other hand, Chelsea have all but conceded their title defence as Premier League leaders Manchester City sit 19 points ahead with 11 games left to play. Further, there has been unrest off the pitch bringing manager Antonio Conte's future into question.
Despite Barcelona being favourites for the tie, it is important to note that Chelsea have not lost to their more illustrious opponents in their past seven meetings. Thus, a cagey affair can be expected in the first leg and its outcome could come down to the performances of key players at the end of 90 minutes.
So, let's take a look at the 5 players who can and will decide the first leg between the perennial rivals.
#5 Lionel Messi
As obvious as it sounds, Messi is key to the outcome of every match he is a part of. While the team having the Argentine will hope that he brings in his A-game to unlock defences and score, opposition tactics naturally involve ways of stopping him.
Thus, Chelsea have a real task on their hands to stop the 30-year-old who has been in brilliant form this season with 27 goals across all competitions so far.Adding his magical feet and his world-class ability to create, there is no doubt that Messi is key to the outcome of the first-leg.
However, the Blues hold a strong psychological advantage over La Pulga as they are the only team Messi has played over 4 times and failed to find the back of the net. In eight meetings between the clubs, Chelsea have shut out the Barcelona no.10 and prevented him from scoring.
Further, Messi has been below his usual standards in the Champions League this season with only 3 goals scored in the group stages. Thus, all eyes will be on Barcelona's talisman as he looks to break his duck and carry a commanding lead to the second leg.