Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said the prospect of facing Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 has given him sleepless nights as he prepares for Tuesday’s clash.
The Italian’s side warmed up for the first leg tie by thrashing struggling second-tier Hull City 4-0 in the FA Cup fifth round on Friday but his mind quickly turned to Barca.
“After the FA Cup game, it was a bit difficult to sleep well, because when you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare everything: the big things, and the details,” said Conte, who has been under mounting pressure this season.
“We have an idea; we have a plan in our heads. In this specific moment for us it’s very important to pick the players that are in the best form, and then try to do our best during the game, “he told a news conference .
Chelsea last defeated the Catalan side in 2012 on the way to their only Champions League title but Conte admits they are the underdogs going into Tuesday’s mouthwatering match.
“We are talking about a massive game, and a big challenge for us,” said Conte who delivered the Premier League title last term but whose fourth-placed side have struggled to reach such high standards during his second season in charge.
“We have to play against a fantastic team, one of the best in the world,” he added. “We must be excited to play this type of game. It won’t be easy. We must pay great attention, but at the same time we must have ambition to try to play our football.
“We have worked and prepared well for this game. We start as underdogs, for sure. For this reason, we must be excited to have this challenge.”
The Italian warned that his players must be prepared to suffer to get past a Barcelona side who are runaway leaders in La Liga and are also through to the Spanish Cup final.
“We know the characteristics of Barcelona very well,” added Conte.
“They like to have possession of the ball; they like to dominate. In every game they are able to create many chances.
“For this reason, we must be prepared to suffer without the ball, to be compact, to not lose our head during the game, and then to try with the ball what we know, and what we try doing in training.”
Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has said he wanted to avoid meeting Chelsea and wished the London side had won their group.
“The Premier League teams are having a great Champions League and we can’t forget we are playing against the current English league champions,” Valverde told a news conference.
“English teams this year are in incredible form, much better than in previous years. Chelsea might be the same.
“We know that, because the English have such a strong league, they’ll all be up there competing.”
There are five English sides in the last 16 with Manchester City and Liverpool having taken big leads in their away legs while Tottenham Hotspur earned a 2-2 draw at Juventus.
“We wish Chelsea had finished first in their group so we didn’t have to play them,” added Valverde.
Chelsea came second in Group C behind Roma on the head-to-head rule, while Barca finished ahead of Juventus in Group D.
Valverde has also taken his side seven points clear in La Liga and into the Spanish Cup final, while they are also among the favourites to win Europe’s elite club competition.
“The Champions League has a special aura and that means everyone is looking forward to playing in games like this one which will be a tough tie against a difficult opponent,” he said as he anticipated locking horns with Chelsea’s Antonio Conte.
“He is one of the best coaches in the world with an extraordinary CV, not just with Chelsea but also with Juventus and the Italian national side,” added Valverde.
“His teams are always hard working and they knew what they have to do. For me it’s a great challenge to come up against one of his sides,” added the Barca coach.