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Tuesday 22 May 2018

Sleepless nights for Conte in plotting Barca's exit

Chelsea v Barcelona, Live TV3/BT Sport 2, KO 7.45

Mission: Antonio Conte
Mission: Antonio Conte

Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has revealed he has suffered sleepless nights plotting the downfall of Barcelona and Lionel Messi.

The Blues host the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against the Catalan giants at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night looking to maintain their impressive record against Messi's men.

Barcelona's history against Chelsea is best summed up by their semi-final meeting in this competition in 2012 when they surrendered a two-goal lead to crash out at the Nou Camp as Roberto Di Matteo's side went on to lift the Champions League for the first time.

But, despite a league win over rock-bottom West Brom and FA Cup progression at the expense of Championship strugglers Hull, Chelsea still head into this heavyweight contest having won just four of their last 12 games in all competitions.

That has led to intense scrutiny on Conte's position, despite the fact the Italian led Chelsea to the Premier League title last season.

Following the 4-0 win over Hull on Friday night, Conte admitted he has been kept awake planning how to beat the free-flowing LaLiga leaders.

Honest

"In these days after the game in the FA Cup, I must be honest... it was a bit difficult to sleep well," he said.

"When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare. You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too.

"They can move a result a lot of the time. We have an idea. We have a plan in our heads. I think that, in this specific moment, it's very important to pick the players who are at the top of their form and then try and do our best to win the game."

All eyes will be on Messi as the Barcelona talisman looks score his first goal against Chelsea, having drawn a blank in his previous eight outings in this fixture.

Conte knows it will be difficult to keep Messi quiet.

"We are talking about the best player in the world," he said when asked about a plan to cope with the Argentina ace.

"Messi has the capacity to solve the situation and create a chance when you are not seeing the chance to score.

"We are talking about a fantastic player. We have to pay great attention, but not only to Messi.

"We have to know that, during the game, we must be prepared to suffer. But, at the same time, we must have the idea to go and score at any moment."

Chelsea boast their own attacking arsenal, including Eden Hazard.

The Belgium forward has been linked with a move to Barcelona's fierce rivals Real Madrid in recent weeks, but he refused to comment on his future other than to state he is "very happy" at Stamford Bridge.

Hazard has drawn comparisons with the likes of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo given his supreme ability.

But he concedes he is still aiming to be as good as the two men considered the best in the game.

"It's good to be compared with the greatest ever, Messi or Ronaldo. But I'm completely different," he said.

"We play in a different league. I try to do my job and try to reach their level, because they are the best in the world. Every season I try and do my best.

"You want to shine when you play the best in the world. If I want to reach that level, I need to do a great game tomorrow."

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