Here are five key factors Roberto Di Matteo must exploit if his Chelsea side are to stand a chance of victory
This season, Barça have become complacent to a degree never experienced before in Pep Guardiola’s reign. Where once they would kill games off with ease, focus has slipped and they have let teams back into games.
Guardiola has regularly blamed this on his side's finishing. That works in two ways: Barça have plenty of cut and thrust but fail to take glaring opportunities; or they can be ponderous in possession and fail to create clear cut chances. It remains a weakness to be exploited.
Barca's squad has looked stretched at times this season. An unprecedented number of injuries, ranging from serious long-term blows to equally frustrating knocks that have kept players out for several weeks, has meant Guardiola has rarely had his strongest squad available all at once. This has impacted on the fatigue of the fit players, who have been required to perform consistently, at a high level, while playing on a regular basis without little rotation.
We hear many wonderful things about Barça’s other-worldly attacking prowess, but the spotlight has been shifted onto the defence this season, and Gerard Pique in particular. The former Manchester United man has been the subject of intense media pressure due to his relationship with songstress Shakira, and rumours of late night partying. Many fans have questioned both the defender and his priorities.
In the last few games though, we have seen the Pique of old: strong, composed, alert and precise in possession. Chelsea will need to seriously test him, though. Pace is also an issue within the Barca backline, and Di Matteo will need to ask his attacking players to remain on the shoulder looking for the ball in behind.
Chelsea must make sure they maintain a high amount of pressure on Barça’s midfield. Allowing them to get into their groove, make off the ball runs untracked and get comfortable is unthinkable. The London club will need to raise their game significantly in this regard as the slightest slip of attention will mean they are punished.
Closing Barça down and cutting off the angles is essential if you want to prevent them piercing your defence. When in possession, Chelsea will need to be precise with their passing, and keep things simple. Barça aren’t impenetrable and will allow you chances to break. Their strategy of closing down quickly means the ball will need to moved not only precisely, but swiftly.
5) Juan Mata
The key man over the two legs will be one of the Chelsea players who knows Barça best. Mata's ingenuity will be decisive should Chelsea expect to advance. He will need to drop deep often and link play, keeping possession, and looking for key passes for those in advanced areas. His technical ability, movement, and understanding of taking up key positions will pose a huge threat to the Catalans.