Barcelona look to decipher Chelsea defense at Camp Nou

FC Barcelona will host Chelsea for the second leg of their round of 16 Champions League game. After leaving the Stamford Bridge with a lucky 1-1 draw, they go home with the advantage of an away goal. Yet for Ernesto Valverde's squad to move on in the tournament they will need to solve Chelsea's defensive scheme.

Barcelona's goal came off a rare Chelsea mistake, which led to Lionel Messi scoring his first goal at Stamford Bridge. As you watch the game, you can see that Chelsea manager Antonio Conte' s defensive scheme is to force Barcelona away from the touchlines and toward the middle of the field. In the middle Chelsea had four or five players waiting for any run made by a Barcelona player.

Chelsea's plan worked well, until the mistake made on their own defensive end, as Barcelona had very little space to move the ball around. Plenty of times when Messi or Iniesta had the ball they would face multiple players from Fabregas, Kante, or one of the defenders forcing them to retreat. This allowed Chelsea to constantly have their defense set making it difficult for Barcelona to get close to Courtois. On the return leg, Valverde must find a way to open up Chelsea defense, if he wants his to find more scoring opportunities.

Barcelona forward Messi skips past Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante — by AP
Barcelona forward Messi skips past Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante — by AP

In the return leg Valverde must field a starting 11 with the ability to open up Chelsea's stingy defense. He needs a strategy that forces Chelsea to send players forward, beside them countering Barcelona, which open space for Messi to go forward with the ball and either find an open shot or space to put a pass for a teammate. That will be difficult as Chelsea in the first leg were alert and quick in closing any space for Messi.

In the first leg Chelsea's defense funneled Barcelona to move the ball and their attack through the center of the field, were Conte packed most of his players. Valverde must find a way were his wing players are able to attack from the wing and either send in crosses or passes. If Barcelona is able to attack from the wing, it would force Conte to send midfielders out of the center and towards the wing area, which in turn would open up space in the middle for Barcelona's midfielders.

Valverde tactic to open up his wings will be difficult as he may not be able to call upon captain Andres Iniesta. Losing a high quality player such as Iniesta will force the Barcelona manager to look at his squad and see who he has with the quality of creating space for him. If Valverde is unable to decipher his opponent's defense and place the right 11 players then his words from his press conference will indeed be true.