Chelsea face Barcelona tonight at Stamford Bridge in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie, and The Blues manager Antonio Conte has revealed that trying to prepare his team to face such top quality opposition has caused him some sleepless nights.
Speaking on the eve of tomorrow’s eagerly anticipated encounter the Italian coach said:
“It was a bit difficult to sleep, to sleep well. When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare. You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too.
“We have a plan in our heads. I think that, in this specific moment, it’s very important to pick the players who are at the top of their form and then try and do our best to win the game.
“I think we start this game as underdogs, for sure, because Barcelona – on paper – are favourites to go into the next round. But, for this reason, I think we must be excited to play this challenge.
“I think that, for sure, we have to play a perfect game against Barcelona tomorrow if we want to win. I repeat, on paper, you start these two games with one favourite and this is Barcelona.
“I think that they earned the right to be the favourites this season for what they have been doing for many years in football in the world. For us, we have to try to work, to try and do our best.
“We know the characteristics Barcelona have: they like to have possession; they like to control the game. In every game they are able to create many chances to score, so we must be ready to suffer without the ball, to be compact, not to lose our heads during the game.”
Chelsea and Barcelona have played out some epic ties in the Champions League over the years, and the two clubs are finely matched in terms of the head-to-head stats with each club having won five, lost five and drawn.
Conte had come under serious pressure in recent weeks after a public spat with his club’s board and poor results on the pitch lead to speculation that the former Juventus coach could be about to be sacked.
However, Chelsea have won their last two games, and although they will be respectful of such top class opposition, they will be quietly confident that if they can keep things tight at the back, the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro will have enough quality to hurt the La Liga leaders.