Chelsea dilemma - Conte may need to abandon caution against Barca

Sports | Mar 14, 2018
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte faces a conundrum of balancing his tendency for caution with the English champions' need to score to get past the might of Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 tomorrow (HK time).

Conte's plan to contain and counter-attack on the La Liga leaders nearly worked to perfection in the first leg three weeks ago as Brazilian Willian put the hosts in front and also hit the woodwork twice. But Andreas Christensen's error cost Conte's men dear as Barca pounced for a vital away goal in a 1-1 draw, Lionel Messi's equalizer giving the Catalans the upper hand heading into the second leg.

However, while Willian shone in Conte's strikerless set-up, Eden Hazard was unable to exert influence he desires on the biggest stage in an unfamiliar center-forward role.

"We need to repeat the game we played at Stamford Bridge and try to exploit the chances to score," Conte said, hinting that he will opt for a similar approach at the Nou Camp.

"We must be prepared to suffer, if we play with Hazard as number nine, or if we play with Olivier Giroud or Alvaro Morata as number nine and Hazard as No 10."

Hazard suffered when deployed once more in a central role as Chelsea were passed off the park by Manchester City in a 1-0 Premier League defeat nine days ago.

"When you leave the pitch you have the impression that you've ran [a lot], but that you haven't played a game of football," said Hazard. "We could have played on for three hours, and I wouldn't touch a ball ... it's difficult to play a good game when you only touch the ball three times."

The root of Hazard's discontent is Conte's lack of faith in either club-record signing Morata or Giroud, who was hastily recruited on the final day of the January transfer window as a more physical option.

Hazard's best displays at Chelsea have come when playing off a focal point, most notably in two Premier League title-winning seasons alongside Diego Costa. A falling-out with Conte meant Costa was hastily dispatched by the Italian at the end of last season.

Morata was bought to replace Costa and initially struck up an excellent relationship with Hazard. However, an alarming dip in form allied to injury problems has seen Morata make just one start in two months and fail to score since Boxing Day.

Likewise, Giroud has made just three starts and scored one goal since joining from Arsenal.

On the eve of the first leg, Hazard welcomed comparisons to Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but admitted he had to produce far more on a consistent basis in the Champions League to justify such comparisons.


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March 2018