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Chelsea will be confident no matter who they draw
Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night wasn’t enough to win Group C due to Roma’s home victory over Qarabag, and as a result the Blues’ chances of being drawn against a European giant in the last-16 have increased.
UEFA rules mean English clubs cannot face one another in the opening knockout round of the Champions League, and though Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Manchester City each won their groups, they still have a chance of drawing Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus. Chelsea’s second placed finish leaves them with just three possible opponents; Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Besiktas.
Having a 66% chance of drawing one of the two top teams in Europe is undoubtedly a position Antonio Conte and Chelsea tried to avoid being in, yet the Italian and many of his players have been right to say that they are confident they can beat any side the draw may throw at them. Wednesday night’s game against Atletico only further emphasised the point already demonstrated by Chelsea’s impressive display away at the Wanda Metropolitano – the Blues are capable of very high-quality performances in Europe and are a team that the likes of Barcelona will wish to avoid.
Of course, this point only stands if Chelsea continue the consistently strong form they have shown since the start of November as opposed to the far weaker performances we saw Conte’s men put in against Roma both home and away.
The upcoming Christmas period will be a test but it does seem that Chelsea have turned a corner since that period that included the 3-0 humiliation in Rome. As last season’s 13-game winning streak showed, Conte’s teams tend to enjoy a snowball effect when it comes to winning runs- feeding off the momentum gained from positive results to manage even better victories.
At this stage it is impossible to tell what Chelsea’s state will be come February when Champions League action returns, but should the form of the current squad and particularly Eden Hazard continue to be so relentlessly consistent, then the Stamford Bridge faithful will be confident of progression to the quarter-finals, despite the fact Chelsea will be forced to play the first leg of their last 16 tie at home.
The potential opposition
Having said all of this, PSG stand out as the team Chelsea will probably want to avoid most. Supporters will already be expecting to have to book their travel to Paris, having been drawn against the Ligue 1 giants in each of their last three Champions League campaigns. Chelsea got the better of Paris Saint-Germain over two legs in the 2013/14 season, but the French side have more than got their revenge since by knocking the Blues out in both the 2014/15 and 2015/16 campaigns.
PSG are a completely different animal this season having strengthened significantly with the signings of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. No team in the competition would be happy being drawn against the current Ligue 1 leaders, it would just be especially frustrating and somewhat tedious for Chelsea fans if they were to have to visit the Parc des Princes once again.
Barcelona, on the other hand, is an example of a European giant that Chelsea have enjoyed playing far more. Now known for the miraculous 2012 meeting where Roberto Di Matteo’s Champions League winning side managed a 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp with 10 men in a game which included THAT Fernando Torres late equaliser.
Barcelona vs Chelsea is also a fixture that is famous for Lionel Messi never scoring in. Sure, Barca have still had their fair share of success over Chelsea, but with their win in 2009 overshadowed and arguably caused by a shocking refereeing display, Blues fans will be excited and quietly optimistic for another clash with the Spanish titans.
Finally, Turkish side Besiktas are another strong side but one that carry far less stature and indeed history with Chelsea in comparison to PSG and Barcelona. The Blues have only met Beskitas twice, when the pair were drawn in the same Champions League group back in 2003. Each team managed a 2-0 away win in the group stage clashes back then and Chelsea went on to win the group.
Besiktas would be a tough, yet new and exciting opponent that Chelsea would naturally hand-pick given the chance. The most significant thing to note ahead of this draw which so many claim to be daunting for Chelsea though, is that none of the three teams Antonio Conte’s men can face will want to be visiting Stamford Bridge. No matter who may come out of the hat in tandem with Chelsea, a very competitive yet winnable fixture will be on the cards for the Londoners.