Antonio Conte wants players to embrace pressure of facing Barcelona

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Antoinio Conte believes his Chelsea side must embrace the pressure of hosting Barcelona.

The Blues boss conceded he has had trouble sleeping in recent nights as he plans how to beat the Catalan giants over two legs to progress into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

The opening leg takes place at Stamford Bridge with the visitors the heavy favourites as Ernesto Valverde’s side travel to London with a seven-point lead at the top of LaLiga.

Chelsea may be the reigning Premier League champions but their defence has been poor and they have won only four of their last 12 domestic fixtures heading into this heavyweight clash.

That has led to speculation over Conte’s future and question marks over some of his players but the Italian wants everyone involved to feel positive come kick-off.

“I don’t know how many times I have had to answer about the pressure,” he said.

“This is football. Football is this. If you want to compete at the maximum level, you have to live with this pressure.

“A team like Chelsea in every game must have the right pressure. We have to try to play the game with only one idea: to try and win.

“Sometimes you are able to. Sometimes not. But that must be your idea. You have to live with the pressure. If we want to stay at this level, the pressure must be your friend, not your enemy.”

Despite a league win over rock-bottom West Brom and FA Cup progression over Championship strugglers Hull, Chelsea are still underdogs – even though they hold an impressive record over Barcelona.

Following the 4-0 win over Hull on Friday night, Conte admitted he has been kept awake at night planning how to see off the free-flowing LaLiga leaders.

“In these days after the game in the FA Cup, I must be honest… it was a bit difficult to sleep well,” he said.

“When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare. You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too.

“They can move a result a lot of the time. We have an idea. We have a plan in our heads. I think that, in this specific moment, it’s very important to pick the players who are at the top of their form and then try and do our best to win the game.”

Valverde, speaking ahead of Barcelona’s training session at Stamford Bridge, praised Conte and said that – even though his job is under intense scrutiny – he remains a great boss.

“He is one of the best managers in the world with a great record,” the former Athletic Bilbao boss said.

“Not only that he has shown at Chelsea, but previously with Juventus and the Italian national team, you can see the quality of his coaching in his teams.”

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