Out-of-form Chelsea have what it takes to beat Barcelona

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Willian (above) was Chelsea’s star man in the first leg against Barcelona. (REUTERS)
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Chelsea's Belgian midfielder Eden Hazard will be key for the English side. (AFP)
Updated 13 March 2018
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Out-of-form Chelsea have what it takes to beat Barcelona

LONDON: In the memory of Ramires chipping the ball over Victor Valdes lies the knowledge that none of this makes much sense.
The rivalry between Chelsea and Barcelona has produced a remarkable sequence of matches over the past 18 years, matches that have occasionally pushed at the parameters of what is acceptable, and frequently challenged the boundaries of what is possible.
Chelsea should have no chance. Their manager is almost certainly leaving in the summer. Recent performances have been inconsistent and occasionally limp. They have lost four of their past six Premier League fixtures and have won only five of their last 16 matches in all competitions. They are fifth in the league, four points off fourth.
Barcelona, meanwhile, are still unbeaten in la Liga, eight points clear of second. They have dropped only four points at home this season and won all three of their home Champions League group games.
Everything says this should be a comfortable Barcelona win, and another step toward the exit for Antonio Conte.
And yet the history of the fixture and the nature of the first leg offers reason for pause. Chelsea should have won at Stamford Bridge. They led 1-0 and seemed in control when a sloppy pass from Andreas Christensen, a lapse in concentration from Cesc Fabregas and a panicky lunge from Cesar Azpilicueta handed Barca an equalizer.
But it was more than that. What was clear from that first leg was that this Barcelona are not the Barcelona of 2011 or even 2015. They are slower. They do not mesmerise teams with the pace of their passing. They play a more cautious game and frailties in their defending make them vulnerable, whatever results in Spain may suggest.
Willian scored but he also hit the post twice in the first leg. Again and again he surged through unchallenged on the counter.

The space he found should alarm the Catalans. Their switch to 4-4-2 should have added protection in front of the back four, but there was little sign of that at Stamford Bridge. Rather Sergio Busquets, the little pace he had having seemingly deserted him entirely, was overwhelmed, just as he had been in the 4-0 defeat away to Paris St.Germain at this stage last season. That tie, of course, should keep any Chelsea optimism in check — Barca have frequently redeemed a disappointing away performance in Europe with an emphatic display at home — but the lesson of that first leg was that Ernesto Valverde’s side is far from impregnable.
The biggest systemic issue for Chelsea in the first leg was that by deploying Eden Hazard as a false nine they occasionally lacked an obvious outlet when they needed to relieve pressure. Although it could be argued that Hazard’s movement created space for Willian, the Belgian made clear after the defeat at Manchester City that he does not enjoy the role and, with Conte insisting he will consult players on tactics before tonight’s game, it seems likely Hazard will revert to his preferred inside-forward role with Olivier Giroud offering a more physical target at center-forward.
At the end of September, Chelsea produced probably the best performance by an English side in this season’s Champions League to win at Atletico Madrid. That feels a long time ago, but if a return to Spain ignites something similar, Conte could have a glorious farewell yet.


Saudi Arabia enjoy more golden success at Special Olympics

Updated 19 March 2019
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Saudi Arabia enjoy more golden success at Special Olympics

  • Kingdom's athletes claim three golds, one silver and three bronzes on day four in Abu Dhabi.
  • Saudi Arabia medal tally now up to an impressive 25.

LONDON: Saudi Arabia enjoyed another good day at the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi winning three golds, one silver and three bronzes to take their medal tally to an impressive 25 after four days.
Abdulaziz Alharthi got the day off to a great start in the pool, the 17-year-old from Jeddah picking up gold in the men’s 25m freestyle.
That was then followed up with the second gold of the day as Mohammed Alolayan powered home in the 5,000m. It was his second medal of the Games after he took home a bronze in the triathlon.
Moayed Aldarwish completed the hat-trick of golds coming home first in the 400m.


That was not the end of the success for the Kingdom as Fares Almateq and Naif Alshammari won silver in the men’s doubles table tennis. This was Fares’ second win of the week, having impressively won gold in the men’s singles event earlier.
Heba Shawli then became another multiple-medal winner when she took home the bronze in the softball throw event — she having won gold in the 25m run event.
Faisal Algosaibi and Faris Khouj, also part of the 4x100m freestyle relay team, each won bronze in their division of the 25m freestyle swimming.


Other winners of multiple medals include Hassan Alhadhariti, who won three golds and one silver in powerlifting; Sara Felemban and Jana Albeshri, who both won silver in bocce women’s singles and women’s team events, and Shahad Sunbul, who won silver in the bocce women’s team event and bronze in the bocce women’s singles event.