By Bakare AbdulMajeed
This clash of titans throws up not only two teams with quite a bit of history and contempt for each other but also two world class players in Hazard and Messi. One, a potential Ballon d’or winner and the other, a five time winner of the prestigious gong. There is an air of opportunity for the new generation to break the duopoly for the title of the world’s best player. Three players can be thought to have the best opportunity in 2018, and yes you probably guessed its Hazard, Neymar and Kevin de bruyne. Last week we saw Neymar go up against the other half of the duo of ‘aliens’ as they have been sometimes dubbed, in Cristiano Ronaldo. I think its fair to say for all his pace and trickery and the beautiful back heeled assist for PSG’s goal on the day Neymar couldn’t exactly get one over Ronaldo and his Madrid teammates. The next man to be tested is Hazard, how will Stamford bridges’ little magician fare?
It could indeed be a good opportunity to outshine his opposing no 10, who along with his barca team seem weary from playing as many games in little over a month, and had to dig in their heels to get the three points against Eibar on Saturday.The last time Barcelona travelled to the U.K was about 16 months ago when they lost 3-1 to Manchester city in the group stages of last season’s Uefa Champions League. Despite what club legend and current Bordeaux F.C gaffer Gus poyet has said about Hazard’s inconsistencies what could be encouraging for blues faithful is the fact that he has found the back of the net six times in his last six appearances for Chelsea. Even Ivan Rakitic acknowledges Hazard as a world class player in his interview on Monday, this indicates a certain level of respect the barca players have for him.
In 2012 when these two sides last met Chelsea’s hero in the first leg at Stamford Bridge was legend Didier Drogba, this time around though the Belgian will have big boots to fill and be the talismanic figure as he has been most often times this season for the blues. But ultimately the key to unleashing this man could lay with Antonio Conte’s willingness to give him his freedom to play on the left where he seems to have made most impact. This role gives him the freedom to combine relentlessly with the other two forward men alongside him and quick movements around the Barcelona backline could be the key to winning.
Whether or not Hazard and his teammates turn up the style against the Catalans remains to be seen but what is certain is the fleet footed Belgian has a chance at staking a claim at table of elite players if he and his team get it right.