By Ger McCarthy
Conte is a dead man walking
Antonio Conte stated that Chelsea would have to play ‘the perfect game’ to defeat ‘one of the best teams in the world’ during his Champions League pre-match press briefing. That rhetoric was hardly surprising considering the London club’s recent woes but it was the Italian’s admittance to consulting senior players on tactics that raised the most eyebrows.
When an experienced manager, any experienced manager, deems it necessary to justify his approach to his team ahead of the biggest match of the season then you know all is not well in the dressing room.
Despite an above average effort at the Camp Nou, Chelsea players’ lack of fight in the recent Premier League loss to Manchester City and signs of frustration during the first leg at home to Barcelona were telling. Antonio Conte is on borrowed time and his players know it.
Neymar no longer casts a shadow
Rumours that former Barcelona and current injured PSG superstar Neymar will be subject to a massive summer transfer bid from Real Madrid is sure to have brought a smile to Ernesto Valverde’s face.
Barcelona’s manager and players have not missed a samba beat since the Brazilian’s acrimonious departure as evidenced by the Catalans march to the top of La Liga and last eight of the Champions League.
Ousmane Dembele has rediscovered his scoring touch, Andres Iniesta is rolling back the years and Messi is, well, Messi. Barcelona are as strong as ever even without their former Brazilian playmaker.
Running out of superlatives
Cesc Fabregas dithers on the ball and in a flash Lionel Messi steals possession. Four Chelsea defenders fail to halt the Barcelona star’s progress and the Argentinean nonchalantly centres for Ousmane Dembele to wallop in his side’s second goal.
Either side of that, another two moments of individual magic sees Messi twice fire the ball between Thibaut Courtois’ legs.
We are running out of superlatives to describe Lionel Messi. Perhaps the biggest compliment you can pay one of the defining players of our generation is that we take moments such as these for granted.