Chelsea vs Barcelona
Excitement is building ahead of Chelsea’s last-16 Champions League clash with Barcelona.
The first leg will be staged at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.
The second leg at the Camp Nou will take place two weeks later.
Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona tactics
Ahead of the game, the Times have produced a brilliant insight into how Barcelona’s tactics have evolved this season.
Many are still wondering how Ernesto Valverde has turned the fortunes at Barca this season.
The Times analyse how the Catalans these days play a 4-4-2 formation, which has Leo Messi as the focal point in a far more central role:
Valverde has sought to impose a disciplined style that worked at Bilbao on a club who pride themselves on entertaining, attacking football. The result is a system that is 4-4-2 in defence and devastatingly fluid in attack.
His loose 4-4-2 system has Messi pulling the strings from a central position.
His goalscoring and darting runs into the box remain a key feature of his game but Messi is Barcelona’s dictator in chief, hitting long and short balls in behind the opposition defence.
Barcelona have a weakness
So can Chelsea beat Barcelona to reach the quarterfinals?
The Times believe that Barcelona’s side have one major weakness: their full-backs.
Rather than digging out the likes of Jordi Alba and Aleix Vidal for their ability, it’s how they are deployed in the Barca system which offers Chelsea hope:
Valverde’s attacking full backs mean that if Chelsea can win the ball back there is space to exploit down both flanks.
Opponents have scored goals against Barcelona this season by targeting this area, by running in through the gap between defender and full back, or hitting balls into vacated space on the wing.
That’s good news for the likes of Eden Hazard and Willian, who may be able to exploit pockets of space down the Barca wings.