Football

Chelsea boss Conte: We need perfect game against Barcelona

Chelsea boss trying to exploit Barca's weaknesses without the ball

Chelsea must play the "perfect game" to beat a formidable Barcelona in tomorrow morning's first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, said Blues manager Antonio Conte.

LAST 16, 1ST LEG
CHELSEA BARCELONA

The English Premier League champions have recovered from a poor run of form, winning consecutive matches over West Bromwich Albion in the league and Hull City in the FA Cup, but Conte is not getting carried away.

"On one hand, you know this team is one of the best in the world - maybe they are favourites to win this competition," Conte told British media.

"On the other hand, we must be excited because we have a great opportunity to play a massive game against a really strong team and to show which is our level.

"We have to try to have the perfect game, the perfect game to try to make the best decisions. For this type of team... they have fantastic characteristics with the ball.

"But they can have weaknesses without the ball and we have to try and exploit this."

Barcelona's star forward Lionel Messi has never scored in eight matches against Chelsea and Conte is eager for his team to maintain that record, reported Reuters.

Chelsea last defeated the Spanish side in 2012 as the London outfit marched to their first Champions League title, and midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who moved to Stamford Bridge from Barcelona in 2014, is confident that Conte's side can repeat the feat.

"They try to put the first pressure very, very high - (they) always work towards the ball," Fabregas said.

"If we can (get) past this first phase of their pressure, then we have the content to do that, and not put ourselves under too much pressure, then I think we can hurt them because they will leave a lot of spaces at the back.

"Hopefully, we can give a good image of what we can do and do a good performance."

While Chelsea enter the clash full of optimism, Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen has warned that they are now an even better side following the world-record sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain for 222 million euros (S$361.8m) last August.

After a wretched start to life without Neymar - they lost 5-1 to Real Madrid over two legs in the Spanish Super Cup - they have been defeated just once in their last 38 matches.

Ter Stegen told ESPN FC: "The quality of Ney, you can't explain it....

"Because he was super important for us, as a person in the team, as a footballer.

"Now, everyone needs to understand what he did because maybe he wants to win something else, also personally.

"His decision, only he knows but in the end we had to compensate all this and this is not easy because he had so much quality, but we did it in a different way and now we have a very, very strong team.

"We've got some new players who have made us even stronger and hopefully they feel good and comfortable in the team and they adapt very fast.

"But, at the same time, we want to give them the time. (Ousmane) Dembele didn't play very often because he was injured. (Philippe) Coutinho just came.

"We always need to give them time and be patient because they are young and they have some great years ahead."

Barcelona are attempting to reach the quarter-finals for a record-extending 11th straight year, while Chelsea have gone beyond the last 16 only once in the past five seasons, AFP reported.

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