Thursday 13 December 2018

Conte facing striker selection headache for Barcelona showdown

Conte could go with the front three of Hazard, Willian and Pedro that worked well in the first leg. Photo: REUTERS
Conte could go with the front three of Hazard, Willian and Pedro that worked well in the first leg. Photo: REUTERS

Matt Law

Antonio Conte is agonising over his Chelsea forward line for tomorrow night's Champions League last-16 second leg against Barcelona.

The head coach believes Chelsea's best performance away from home came when he lined up with a front two of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata against Atletico Madrid in the group stages.

But Morata's poor form, together with Willian's hot streak - five goals in his past five games including one against Barcelona - means Conte is having to consider other options.

Despite the criticism he received for playing without a recognised striker against Manchester City, Conte could go with the front three of Hazard, Willian and Pedro that worked well in the first leg.

Conte was praised for his tactics in the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge and has made it clear that he is prepared to ignore his critics and play Hazard as a "false nine" again.

Another option that Conte is thought to be considering is asking Willian to play in a front two just behind Hazard, but much will depend on whether or not midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko tells Conte he is ready to start in the Nou Camp.

Olivier Giroud's performance against Crystal Palace has also given Conte something to think about, but the Frenchman's limited mobility may count against him.

Conte suggested he will listen to players' opinions before settling on his team. That is believed to relate to Chelsea's attack and whether Bakayoko feels prepared. Bakayoko returned from injury as a substitute against Crystal Palace, having missed more than a month after being sent off during a nightmare performance in the defeat by Watford.

Bringing him back into the team would allow Cesc Fabregas to push further forward against his old club and would ease some of the defensive burden on N'Golo Kante.

Fabregas believes that any plan must include making his friend Lionel Messi, who scored the equaliser at Stamford Bridge, "feel uncomfortable".

Fabregas said: "If I am lucky enough to play, it's true that we (Fabregas and Messi) are positioned in nearby areas of the pitch. Stopping him will be difficult but I will try to do everything possible so that he feels uncomfortable and can't put together a perfect performance."

Despite the fact Chelsea go into the second leg as underdogs, Fabregas believes Chelsea can pull off a shock and has warned Conte will have his players well drilled.

Fabregas said: "We take advantage of our opportunities, to play our game - I've trained tactically more at Chelsea more than anywhere else and you can see that on the pitch.

"We can't start at the Camp Nou with a negative mindset, it must be the opposite. We have to enjoy this big match."

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has returned to training, but is still a doubt for the game. Philippe Coutinho is cup-tied. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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