Antonio Conte and his Chelsea side are set to face their biggest challenge in two years. The Blues have been tasked with facing Barcelona, arguably the best team in Europe today. The Catalonians currently sit 7 points clear at the top of La Liga, having not lost a single league game under new manager Ernesto Valverde. Now La Liga’s leaders will take on the Premier League Champions in one of the ties of the round.
What starting XI Antonio Conte chooses in the two legs will be directly proportional to the outcome of the tie. Essentially, this game will be won or lost in midfield. So, it’s imperative that the Italian picks the most suitable midfielders to combat Barcelona. N’Golo Kante is a certified starter, but the real question is who will start alongside the Frenchman?
Here’s why Cesc Fàbregas should start ahead of Tiémoué Bakayoko against Barcelona.
Tiémoué Bakayoko has not been the signing most thought he would be since joining Chelsea. At first, he was likened to a more versatile Paul Pogba. Some even said he resembled a younger & more athletic Patrick Vieira. It’s fair to say things haven’t gone that well for the Frenchman, he’s failed to win over the fans and his performances have left more to be desired. Most recently, Bakayoko was sent off in Chelsea’s 4-1 to Watford last Monday, and his 30-minute cameo could be best described as a disaster class.
Antonio Conte has deployed the 23-year-old in a box-to-box role, he’s responded to that faith by only scoring 3 goals. For the freedom he gets in the attack, that return is unacceptable and doesn’t warrant a start against Barcelona. Conte prefers him over Cesc Fàbregas because the 23-year-old provides more physicality in the middle to give his team more protection & defensive solidity. Against Barcelona, Conte cannot afford to go in with such a mindset. That’s the same mentality that teams use weekly against Barcelona, to no avail.
Cesc Fàbregas may not be as mobile as Bakayoko, but he offers more on the ball attacking-wise. The Spaniard has an exceptional passing range in which he combines with his astounding vision. With Cesc Fàbregas in the middle, Chelsea could easily recycle possession and hold onto the ball longer in a game where they will undoubtedly be under severe pressure. Barcelona is a team that loves to monopolise the ball, so the few times that Chelsea do win the ball, they need players in midfield can ensure they sustain possession.
A midfield three of Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitić & Sergio Busquets will always seek to dominate possession and play most of the game in the opposition’s half. This type of play means Barcelona push up and enforce a high-pressure tactic, thus leaving space in behind.
In world football today, there’s no player better at producing a final ball that Cesc Fàbregas. The 30-year-old can provide a through ball in any situation whether it be lofted or on the ground. With a pacey Alvaro Morata up front, Chelsea could counter-attack with speed through one or two passes, thus giving him their best shot at victory.