We are finally here, the last weekend before the 1st leg of the Round-of-16 stage in the UEFA Champions League 2017-18 against Chelsea. As all of you would be knowing, we head into this game after 2 consecutive draws against Espanyol & Getafe. Due credit to both of the teams for having held us back despite our sublime form. Both the sides have had the ability to keep top attacking sides at bay this season and we were in a position to afford both the results.
Having dropped 4 points in the space of 2 games, it is high time we pull our socks up and get back to winning ways in the game against Eibar. It is not only to keep at the top of the table in tact but also to travel to England on a high note. We cannot afford to visit the Stamford Bridge after failing to win 3 games consecutively, especially after Chelsea have won two games on the trot against West Bromwich & Hull City. Of course, the two teams Chelsea managed to beat are nowhere near us in terms of quality but knockout ties are all about form, confidence and being good on that day!
To be able to do all of that, what we need is a win. There is no other alternative, shortcut or any other way to go about it. We need to be in control of the ball, in control of the game, score goals and defend well. It is not a small ask given the form that Eibar have been in and to play well against them with the game on Tuesday at the back of our minds. Looking at the players we have called up for the game, it looks like there isn’t going to be a lot of rotation:
Denis Suarez, Andre Gomes, Paco Alcacer & Thomas Vermaelen are left out of the squad. This means that our midfield is definitely going to have 2-3 regular starters who would as well feature in the Chelsea game. Personally, I wouldn’t mind that as we are at a stage wherein we shouldn’t be going through a lot of panic. I would prefer to go all guns blazing in the first half to try and put 2 or 3 past Eibar within the first one hour and then withdraw our key players one by one.
In case we try to rest our starters and the score remains 0-0 at 60 minutes, the mentality of the players would be in panic mode with 30 minutes to go. This is okay if we didn’t have a test as big as Chelsea coming up in 3 days. But the situation is different now and the atmosphere is going to be much more relaxed in case we put the game to bed early on. At the same time if we go for a full strength 11, we wouldn’t be able to substitute off majority of the key players. Hence there needs to be a balance in the lineup such that we give 1-2 key players some rest but we are strong enough to kill the game off as well.
My playing 11:
I would go for this lineup with the assumption that we would be fielding the same lineup against Chelsea as we did in El Clasico. It is almost a full strength lineup with the only change being Ivan Rakitic, Jordi Alba & Gerard Pique not starting the game. I would do this because Rakitic & Alba are arguably the most hard working players in the 11 and ideally you would want to keep them physically fresh for Tuesday. Fielding the above mentioned lineup would also mean we have Messi, Suarez, Iniesta, up front to try and finish off the game at least within the first one hour.
If we are successful in doing so, then we can take off Iniesta and bring on Philippe Coutinho. The next change could be to bring off one of Messi, Busquets or even Suarez. This change could be done based on situation of the game, fitness level and performance of the each of the players. There is another change which I think is mandatory and that is to bring on Pique for Umtiti later on in the game. This is to give Pique some minutes before we start him against Chelsea so that he doesn’t feel rusty on Tuesday. It would also give Umtiti some much needed rest if he doesn’t play the entire 90 minutes.
All of these suggestions are completely tentative and a lot depends on the tactics, control of the game established, mentality and so on. However, it would be smart on our part to work based on a balanced approach of winning the game early on and also resting the key players after putting the game to bed.
Visca El Barca!