Conte’s caution fails to harness best of Hazard

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte faces a conundrum of balancing his tendency for caution with the English champions’ need to score to get past the might of Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 tomorrow.

Conte’s plan to contain and counter-attack on the La Liga leaders nearly worked to perfection in the first leg three weeks ago as Willian put the hosts in front and also hit the woodwork twice.

But one Andreas Christensen error cost Conte’s men dear as Barca pounced for a vital away goal when Andres Iniesta set up Lionel Messi to finally net against Chelsea at the ninth attempt and give Barca the upper hand from a 1-1 draw.

However, whilst Willian shone in Conte’s strikerless set-up, Eden Hazard was unable to exert the influence he desires on the biggest stage in an unfamiliar centre-forward role.
“We need to repeat the game we played at Stamford Bridge and to try to exploit the chances to score,” Conte told Chelsea TV following Saturday’s 2-1 win over Crystal Palace, hinting that he will opt for a similar approach at the Camp Nou.

“It’s important to understand that we must be prepared to suffer, if we play with Hazard as number nine, or if we play with (Olivier) Giroud or (Alvaro) Morata as number nine and Hazard as number 10.”

Hazard certainly suffered when deployed once more in a central role as Chelsea were passed off the park by Manchester City in a 1-0 defeat nine days ago.

“When you leave the pitch you have the impression that you’ve ran [a lot], but that you haven’t played a game of football,” said Hazard as City recorded a Premier League record 902 passes and Chelsea failed to muster a single shot on goal.

“We could have played on for three hours, and I wouldn’t touch a ball.

“For me personally it’s difficult to play a good game when you only touch the ball three times.”

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