At this point, people are perhaps showering me with their expletive-filled blessings after reading the title. And to be fair, they should. After all, Antonio Conte is a Serie A and Premier League winning manager that has had success with all the teams he has coached thus far.
And on the other hand, I am just a douche with a keyboard. But even then, everybody has some analysis of his own. After that, they form their opinions—and I am on the same boat as well.
Barcelona are the only team in Europe that are yet to be beaten. They even broke their Anoeta curse by beating Real Sociedad 4-2 at the stadium and that too after being 2-0 down. Barcelona seem unbeatable, and Chelsea fans have to be highly optimistic to believe that they will get the better of their Spanish rivals.
However, no team is entirely unbeatable and here are 3 things Conte should do to beat the Blaugranas.
1. Abandon 3-man defence
Wait, what? Abandon an extra man in defence against a team that has Lionel Messi in it? Yes, that’s the first thing Conte should do.
While the 3-man defence has its advantages, giving Barcelona a tough time in midfield is where the match could be won. Real Madrid showed that in the first-half of the Clasico as they tormented their rivals in the middle of the park.
For the first 45 minutes, Barcelona seemed clueless. The complexion of the match could have been different had the Blancos taken their chances and scored the goals to take advantage of the dominance. Hence, playing an extra man in midfield—deep midfield, mind—is the way to go about proceedings.
2. Utilise Ross Barkley and Cesc Fabregas in the same XI
On paper, this might look really risky. After all, having two free-minded midfielder always brings about the risk of being exposed—especially now that Ernesto Valverde has drilled the Barcelona team to be effective on the counter.
However, Cesc knows Barcelona through and through and giving him a free role in the XI could reap the rewards as he is always at his best in such a role. Meanwhile, Barkley, alongside N’Golo Kante, should be tasked primarily with guarding the defence.
Among the two, Barkley—and not Kante—should be given the license to surge forward and cause chaos in Barcelona’s defence. The Englishman is still an unknown entity for the Catalans and using that could be advantageous.
3. Not focusing solely on Messi
This is something that cost Real Madrid dearly in the Clasico last month. While Mateo Kovacic did a brilliant job of marking Messi, the Argentine was still effective in a reverse way—he pulled himself out of the play leading to the first goal in the Clasico.
As Kovacic was busy marking him, Rakitic was left to run free. Chelsea should take note from that and not allow all the focus to be on Messi alone. While he is the most significant player in the team, the others are also perfectly capable of inflicting damage.
As a result, it would be wise to make a strategy that focuses more zonally than towards Messi alone. He is a player with superior football intelligence and can be just as dangerous on a field of play by withdrawing himself as he is while exerting himself.