Antonio Conte wary of Lionel Messi threat

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Antonio Conte wary of Lionel Messi threat

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has admitted that he is wary of the threat posed by Lionel Messi when his side take on Barcelona in the Champions League, but insists that they cannot afford to focus solely on stopping the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

The Premier League champions host the runaway La Liga leaders in the first leg of their last-16 clash on Tuesday night, when Messi will bid to end his goalless record against Chelsea.

The Argentine has failed to score in eight previous meetings with Chelsea – his worst record against any single club in football – and Conte is hoping to see that streak continue while looking to exploit Barca’s “weakness” off the ball.

“I hope that we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player. We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge,” Conte told reporters.

“It won’t be easy because we know very well this player. We are talking about one of the best players in the world. But we for sure will work together, work with the team, but not just to try to stop him: if we focus on just man-marking Messi, it can be very dangerous.

“We have been analysing this team for a long time; we started one month ago and analysed this team. We are speaking about one of the best teams in the world. We have to try to have the perfect game and to try to make the best decisions also for this type of team.

“This is a different opponent. They have a fantastic characteristic with the ball, but they can have a weakness without the ball and we must try to exploit this.”

Barca have lost just one of their last 38 games across all competitions, with Messi registering 26 goals and 12 assists during his 33 appearances this term.