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Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the English champions can do “something incredible” by knocking Barcelona out of the Champions League at the Camp Nou on March 14, despite blowing a lead to draw the first leg of their last-16 tie 1-1.
Willian gave reason to a bold team selection from Conte on Tuesday by putting the English champions ahead just after the hour mark, having also hit the woodwork twice before half-time.
However, Barca pounced on a very rare Chelsea mistake on the night as Andres Iniesta intercepted a slack pass by Andreas Christensen and squared for Lionel Messi to slot home his first goal in nine appearances against Chelsea.
“We must be realistic. We are talking about Barcelona. They show tonight to be a strong, fantastic team,” said Conte. “We have showed that if we are ready to work very hard together defensively, but continue to have the right feeling when you win the ball when you have the chance to score, we can try to do something incredible at the Nou Camp.”
Conte named a front three without a recognised centre-forward with Willian and Pedro Rodriguez either side of Eden Hazard, while the 21-year-old Christensen started in place of club captain Gary Cahill. And Conte refused to pin the blame on the inexperienced Dane for conceding.
“I think it was a great performance, an incredible performance,” added Conte. “We’re talking about a player he’s only 21. It’s great that he can play this game with this maturity. I am very happy. For me he was one of the best players tonight.”
Barcelona enjoyed nearly 70 percent of the possession, but lacked the penetration to open up Chelsea’s well-organised defence. “At times it seemed like a handball match, because they sat back and waited,” said Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic.
“It is difficult when they have eight players behind the ball.” However, Conte defended his tactics, saying it would be “crazy” to approach facing Barcelona any other way.
“When you play against Barcelona you know very well that if you want to face them box-to-box then you are crazy and you go to lose the game, not 1-0, (but) 4, 5, 6-0,” said Conte. “You must play with intelligence, especially if you know that (Barca) level is up on us. You must play an intelligent game, we are not stupid.” -AFP