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Barca aim to stay unbeaten in difficult Chelsea test

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20th-Feb-2018       
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Xinhua, Madrid :
FC Barcelona aim to continue their unbeaten start to the campaign when they face a difficult trip to play Chelsea in the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie on Tuesday night.
Barca visit London unbeaten after 24 games in the Liga Santander, bettering the previous best start to a season set by Pep Guardiola's side in the 2009-10 campaign, and also undefeated in the Champions League, after cruising to the last 16 with four wins and two draws from their six group matches.
The only defeat they have suffered this season was in the quarter-final of the Copa del Rey, when they lost the first leg 1-0 at home to Espanyol, before overturning that in the Camp Nou in the second leg.
The side coached by Ernesto Valverde looked jaded against a highly motivated and disciplined Eibar on Saturday, although their firepower was enough to see them to a 2-0 win and it is possible that a draining start to 2018, which has seen them play midweek games in six of the past 7 weeks has
taken its toll.
However, there can be few concessions against a rival who have had 24 hours more to prepare for the Champions League after an easy night on Friday as they cruised into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, resting several key players in a 4-0 win over second division Hull City.
Valverde will field his strongest possible side with Ter Stegen in goal, Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto, Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti in defense, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic and Iniesta in midfield and Leo Messi and Luis Suarez in attack.
The only question mark is whether Valverde will use Paulinho or Andre Gomes as his fourth midfielder, with Paulinho perhaps the favorite ahead of the much-criticized Portuguese player.
Nelson Semedo is suspended for the game, but the good news is that Thomas Vermaelen is available again after overcoming a muscle injury.
Barca and Chelsea have a long history in the Champions League and Messi will be looking to end a run of eight games against the English side in which he has failed to score a single goal.

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