The automatic assumption is that Barcelona will win. Get your money on the Catalan giants at 2/5, and my work here is done….
Yet Chelsea are actually unbeaten in their last eight matches with Barcelona. No, seriously. They also picked up a 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp to knock Barca out when the sides last met. Gary Neville’s goalgasm from that night still haunts my nightmares.
Since UEFA scrapped the deathly dull second group stage in 2003, there have been 25 completed Champions League knock-out ties where the first leg ended 1-1, as it did between these two.
Of those ties, the team playing away in the second leg has only qualified for the next stage seven times. The good news for Antonio Conte is the only team to do this twice is Chelsea. The bad news is that both occurrences were over 10 years ago, and they were against Arsenal and Valencia rather than someone good.
Chelsea were also the last team to be on the wrong end of the equation, as they drew 2-2 at home with Paris Saint-Germain after a 1-1 draw in France in 2015. This is the only example from the seven where a higher score draw saw the away team through on away goals. If the Blues are to reach the quarter-finals, history suggests they are going to have to win.
Paddy will give you your money back as a free bet if an English team wins the match you bet on, so even if you hate Chelsea it needn’t be the end of the world if they win on Wednesday night. But the Blues’ win odds are 13/2, which is longer than they were at Manchester City recently.
Barcelona’s phenomenal home record in this competition suggests Paddy may as well offer you a free trip to the final if Chelsea win. They have only lost four of their 39 Champions League knockout games at Camp Nou, winning 25 of them along the way.
The home side don’t need to win either. A 0-0, which is priced at 14/1, will see them through, though Barca are not known for their bore draws.
They have played 32 home knock-out tie matches in the past 14 years, and have only drawn 0-0 four times. Chelsea have had three from 27 on the road in the same period, and whilst one was a meeting of these sides, it seems reasonable to expect goals.
So who’s going to score them? It’s boring to say Lionel Messi, even if he finally managed to score against Chelsea when they last played. You might’ve heard about him ending his goal drought against the Blues? It was only mentioned by everyone.
With Messi’s barren run against them over, focus naturally shifts to Luis Suárez. He once scored, assisted and bit someone in a home match with Chelsea, so we can be sure he’ll be fired up for this one.
The Uruguayan hasn’t scored in his last 881 minutes of Champions League action, which is pretty crazy when he has scored 19 goals in the competition across his career, and has 21 goals in 25 La Liga games this season. Suárez can be backed at 11/4 to open the scoring, or 10/11 to plant his teeth into the scoresheet at some point.
On the Chelsea side of the market, it’s hard to know who to back as it’s not certain who will play. They did well against Barcelona last time out with Hazard as a false nine, but were then abysmal at Manchester City with the same set up.
I tipped Olivier Giroud to score in my preview of the City match, and perhaps he might have if Conte had a) given him more than 12 minutes on the pitch, and b) told Chelsea to try attacking occasionally.
The Frenchman has yet to score against anyone better than Hull City for his new team, but it’s not as if he hasn’t had good opportunities. In the Premier League he has had five clear-cut chances, and feeding the expected goal stats into my nerdometer reveals it would be more likely he’d score four goals from those chances, rather than the zero he has in reality.
It’s best to wait and see if he starts the match before backing Giroud, but there’s undoubtedly goals around the corner for him.
The final person of interest here is the referee, Damir Skomina, who is one of UEFA’s most experienced refs at this level. Only three men have taken charge of more Champions League matches than he has over the last four seasons.
He’s not one for a drama, though. He has awarded just two penalties, sent nobody off, and issued the fewest yellow cards per match of the 12 refs who have done at least 15 matches at Europe’s top table in that period
It obviously could turn ugly, and not just because Suárez is playing. There has been a red card in two of the last four meetings, after all. But the form book suggests Skomina will keep his cards in his pocket wherever possible, so the 6/4 available that there are under 50 card points looks too good to refuse.
Even if the Blues get through this and win the Champions League, there’s every chance Conte is out at the end of the season.
Paddy’s favourite to be the next Chelsea manager is former Barcelona boss Luis Enrique, at 6/4. His former side might just push him closer to the job with a win here, and my money will be going on a 2-0 Barcelona win. Adios, Antonio.