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Top-Four Finish Might Not Guarantee Champions League Place

The race for the UEFA Champions League in the  Premier League season will go right to the wire as Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea are still in the running for the final two places. While whichever side manages to secure third spot will be guaranteed Champions League football next year, if the Blues or Spurs finish fouth, they could miss out on Europe’s elite competition.

Barcelona 3-0 Chelsea: Magic Messi Ends Blues’ European Hopes

Chelsea knew they had a lot to do when they travelled to Camp Nou on Wednesday night after the 1-1 draw in the first-leg. However, after just three minutes, Antonio Conte’s side had the steepest of mountains to climb which they failed to do, losing 3-0 on the night and 4-1 on aggregate. Lionel Messi got the first and the third goals with Ousmane Dembele getting a brilliant second in between.

Willian Warning for Barcelona Ahead of Camp Nou Clash

It would not be an exaggeration to call Willian Chelsea’s saviour at the moment.

The Brazilian winger, 29, has this uncanny ability to assume the mantle of Chelsea’s hero at the most opportune of times. It happened in 2015 as Chelsea attempted that lamentable defence of their Premier League title under Jose Mourinho. It was one of the most forgettable seasons in Chelsea’s history but Willian’s efforts helped to lend it some dignity.

The Blues’ title defence this time around is not nearly as bad but it has still been seriously wanting. Willian once again seems the player most ready to step up to the plate by delivering one inspiring performance after another. His goal against crystal palace was his fifth in as many games, bringing in season tally for Chelsea to 13. Only Eden Hazard has scored more this season, and Willian has never been more prolific since arriving at Stamford Bridge.

His stunning form has meant that a player who so often in the past had to settle for a place on the bench is now virtually undroppable.

Antonio Conte: Willian playing ‘fantastic’

The Chelsea boss may have preferred Pedro to Willian for most of the season so far but he was singing the number 22’s praises after the win over crystal palace.

“You can see that if a player stays in great form I’m the first to pick him in the starting XI,” Conte told his press conference. “Willian is playing in a fantastic way, but I want to underline, not only with the ball, also without the ball.

“He’s working very hard and he’s helping the team without the ball. He’s showing great maturity at this point of his career. In my heart I hope to see him at this level, to continue this performance. He’s playing very well with the ball, without the ball.

“It’s important to have balance within the game, because when we lose our balance it’s very difficult.”

This means that Willian is almost assured of his starting berth against Barcelona on Wednesday. If the speedster continues where you left off in the first leg of the tie, the likes of Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti will certainly have something to think about at Camp Nou.

Chelsea’s number 22 could easily have had a hat trick in that game had the posts not been so kind to Barcelona (and suspiciously thicker).

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Ahead of the game, the player himself has spoken of his joy in having secured his spot in Conte’s Starting XI. He told Chelsea FC’s magazine on Tuesday:

“I think you have to enjoy yourself on the pitch. To play football, you have to be happy. I have to enjoy this moment now. When you start to play more games, or when you play every match, you have confidence and things are good for you, then you can keep smiling.”

If William graces the Camp Nou pitch on Wednesday, as indeed he appears likely to, every Chelsea fan will have a reason to be optimistic.

Featured image: Twitter

Fabregas Unsure Whether to Celebrate Scoring Against Barcelona

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas has always been a darling character at each of the clubs he has played for, but two of them face off against each other on Wednesday.

Having played out a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the match, Chelsea travel to Spain with the hope of overcoming one of the best teams in Europe in order to advance the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Fabregas started the Stamford Bridge leg and is likely to be involved again with Chelsea desperate for goals at Camp Nou on Wednesday.

The midfield maestro was signed as a prodigious teenager by Arsenal before returning to Barcelona, from whose youth academy he had initially been spawned. There, he spent a memorable three years with the likes of Leo Messi and Gerard Pique, forging strong friendships with both of them. The Chelsea man is especially close to Messi and their spouses enjoy the same kind of affection.

Fabregas: ‘Can’t say if I will celebrate’

While he has no qualms against taking to the notoriously wide Camp Nou pitch against his pals, what Fabregas is unsure of is how he will react if he’s lucky enough the score one past his former side.

“Honestly, I haven’t thought about it at all. I’ve only scored two goals this season and it’s been a while since my last goal,” he told Marca on Monday.

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“There are feelings at such a moment that you can’t predict, I can’t definitively say I won’t celebrate, but it’s unlikely I would.”

The only thing that 30-year-old World Cup winner is sure of is that he will not be stepping his foot off the gas despite his special relationship with Wednesday’s opponents.

Asked about the prospect of facing his former team he said: “I did it with Arsenal and now with Chelsea, I’ve felt pretty good on both occasions. It doesn’t bother me to play against my previous club or old friends, it motivates me.”

Out to make Messi ‘uncomfortable’

The extent of his friendship with Messi includes vacationing together in the exotic Spanish island of Formentera as recently as last summer.

Nonetheless, Fabregas is hellbent on denying the five-time Ballon d’Or winner any space when they square off on Wednesday.

“If I am lucky enough to play, it’s true that we are positioned in nearby areas of the pitch, stopping him will be difficult but I will try to do everything possible so that he feels uncomfortable and can’t put together a perfect performance,” he added.

“I see him as a rival who wants to win, and I want the same thing. We are in different teams and each player wants what is best for their own club. Obviously, you always have respect for each other.”

Fabregas played 151 times for Barcelona between 2011 and 2014, scoring 42 times.

Featured image: Twitter

Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Lapse in Concentration Costs Blues First-Leg Advantage

One of the world’s biggest clubs was in town on Tuesday night as Chelsea hosted La Liga leaders Barcelona in their Champions League Last 16 first-leg. The Premier League champions looked to have executed a perfect tactical performance as Willian put them one goal ahead before a poor decision from Andreas Christensen led to Lionel Messi’s first-ever goal against the Blues.

Rudiger: Chelsea ‘Should Not Fear’ Barcelona Threat

Football fans across the world will be looking forward to Tuesday night as Barcelona travel to Chelsea in their Champions League Last 16 first-leg. The visitors are in imperious form this season and are the only side left in Europe’s top five leagues not to have lost a league match, while the Blues are fourth in the Premier League with a 19-point gap between them and league leaders Manchester City.

Chelsea vs Atletico Madrid Preview: Blues Looking to Secure Top Spot in Champions League Group

Chelsea welcome Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening as they look to secure top spot in Champions’ League Group C. A win for the Blues would guarantee top spot in the group, whilst a draw would encourage Roma in second place to go for it against FK Qarabag. A defeat for Chelsea would then bring Atletico into contention, especially if Roma slip up against the plucky Azerbaijanis.

Chelsea 3 – 1 Newcastle: Hazard Inspires Blues as Unbeaten Run Continues

Chelsea stretched their unbeaten Premier League run to seven games with a solid home victory over Rafa Benitez’s beleaguered Newcastle United side. With the Manchester clubs both winning, the title landscape hasn’t changed for Antonio Conte’s men but Arsenal and Tottenham both dropped points which will assist the Blues in their Champions League qualification endeavours.

Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea Preview – Blues Must Be at Their Best to Stay Top

Chelsea travel to Madrid to take on Champions League specialists Atletico Madrid in what promises to be a fascinating encounter later this evening. The Blues sit two points clear at the top of Group C but will be fully aware of the defensive capabilities of Diego Simeone’s men and will have to be at their best to break them down.

The atmosphere at the Wanda Metropolitano promises to be electric, in Atletico’s first Champions League game in their new home.

Formation

Antonio Conte will not budge from his 3-4-3 formation that has served him so well domestically, and implementing it against FK Qarabag on match day one saw the Blues pick up a comprehensive 6-0 victory. With Atletico Madrid being notoriously difficult to break down, Conte will be hoping his creative influences within the team can pose sufficient problems for the Atletico defence.

Team Selection

Thibaut Courtois returns to the club that accommodated him on loan with his place as the Blues number 1 firmly cemented.

Andreas Christensen has been one of the star performers for the Blues this term and could flank the returning David Luiz and in-form Cesar Azpilicueta in the heart of Chelsea’s defence, with Gary Cahill set to miss out.

Marcos Alonso struggled at Stoke on Saturday but doesn’t seem to have much competition at left wing-back whilst the right-wing back debate continues with Victor Moses seemingly in pole position to start in the Spanish capital – despite Davide Zappacosta’s instant impact.

Integral to Chelsea’s success will be the stability in midfield, which N’Golo Kante and Tiemoue Bakayoko will need to provide to nullify the threats of Antoine Griezmann and company.

Creative opportunities against the notoriously resolute Atletico could be few and far between so Conte will be looking to Eden Hazard, Pedro and Saturday’s hat-trick hero, Alvaro Morata, to provide the firepower in what promises to be a game of few chances.

Predicted Starting XI

Courtois (GK)
Moses
Christensen
Luiz (c)
Azpilicueta
Alonso
Kante
Bakayoko
Hazard
Pedro
Morata

Where the Game Will Be Won or Lost

In front of their adoring home support, Atletico are one of the most difficult teams to encounter in European football. Their clinical forward players, coupled with stern defence, make it a daunting task for Europe’s elite and they have reached the final of the competition twice in the last four years. As always, N’Golo Kante will have to protect Chelsea’s back four in his usual combative style and it promises to be a big test for Tiemoue Bakayoko – although he demonstrated his capabilities in Monaco’s run to the Champions League semi-finals last season.

Match Prediction

Chelsea will be desperate to leave Madrid in their toughest-looking match of the group whilst Atletico will be eager to make up for the two points they dropped at Roma on match day one. With defence being the order of the day, these two European heavyweights could well cancel each other out.

1-1 Draw

Header image: “Champions League Ball” (CC BY-ND 2.0) by prakash_ut