Chelsea manager Antonio Conte says that he fears that coping to the physical demands of the Premier League could ruin Chelsea’s charge in Europe.
Despite a potential Round of 16 encounter against Barcelona or Paris-Saint Germain looming, Conte believes that Chelsea’s Premier League commitments may be the reason cost them a serious run at the Champions League.
Chelsea finished 2nd in Group C after after a final day draw against Atletico Madrid. With a 1-0 win against Qarabag, Italian giants Roma took top spot instead. This means the Blues will have to face a group winner in the Round of 16.
Fellow English clubs Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have won their respective groups. However, UEFA rules do not allow for teams from the same country to clash till the quarter finals. This leaves Chelsea with Barcelona, PSG or Turkish side Besiktas as potential opponents in the next round.
“With five teams to go through to the next round means the level of this league is very high,” said Conte, speaking after the 1-1 draw against Atletico. A fifth English side in Liverpool could go through to the next round with a draw against Spartak Moscow on Wednesday night.
“Don’t forget here this season is very tough. You have to play a lot of games, but when you arrive at the final stage to play for quarter-finals, semi-finals the English teams have a lot of games in their legs. For this reason I think it could be problematic to win (the Champions League).”
“We can face any team”
Maestro Eden Hazard was bullish, stating that Chelsea were not afraid of any side. He told BT Sport: “It’s not a problem. We are Chelsea. Chelsea can face any team.
“We know PSG and Barcelona, they are very good. But we are Chelsea and we have to be ready for everything. We can do everything.”
Conte was in agreement with his star winger. He added: “You must be ready to face the best teams. Our opponent won’t be happy to play against us.”
The draw for the Champions League knockouts takes place on Monday, where as many as a record five English sides could be looking forward to their fate.
Author’s Take –
Although Conte’s comments about the Premier League being a more demanding league than others may have substance, the Blues have really landed themselves in a spot of bother by failing to win the group.
Despite Conte and Hazard’s confidence, Chelsea will find it extremely tough against Barcelona, a side unbeaten this season with Lionel Messi in top form, or PSG, a side who have bulldozed everyone in their sights with their fearsome trio of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani.
They may have to hope to reignite the fire of 2012, where they beat the odds to lift the Champions League for the first time, beating Barcelona and Bayern Munich en route to an unlikely triumph.