BY PAUL LAGAN
Thibaut Courtois’s representatives return to the negotiation table with Chelsea over a new contract for the goalkeeper this week.
The Belgium stopper, 25, has 16 months left on his current deal. While he has said that a deal to remain at Chelsea is close, there is still room for negotiations that will see his current 100k a week wages more than double.
It’s no surprise that talk of a summer move to Real Madrid has reared its head just at the same time in the Spanish media.
This is all part of the external pressure the Blues hierarchy have to face and the same will occur when they turn their attention to trying to extend Eden Hazard’s tenure at Stamford Bridge, next month.
Tonight, Antonio Conte’s men will face a date of destiny of their own as they take on Barcelona in the Champions League at the Bridge.
The need to halt Lionel Messi is one that has haunted many an opposition manager and while Argentina maestro has yet to score against the Blues, he remains their key player and the man Chelsea fear the most. Defender Antonio Rudiger knows what to expect – he faced Barcelona before and, while holding the Spanish giants to a credible 1-1 when at Roma, was thrashed at the Camp Nou 6-1 in the return leg.
The German centre-back takes a pragmatic view of the task ahead. Having played in the 4-0 demolition of Hull City in the FA Cup on Friday, he said: “The two games – Hull and Barcelona are completely different.
“But it was good for our confidence. We go into the Barca game with a good feeling.
“It was important for us to bounce back after two defeats. I was happy with the performance against Hull and it wasn’t completely easy – we had some young players on the pitch and the team was a bit mixed. Everyone did well.
“I have played against Messi before. Everyone knows what kind of quality he has. But we are playing at home and it could be an advantage for us.” This won’t be a game for kids – Rudiger agrees. “Of course. In the last 16, everyone is tough. We are playing at home first and it will not be easy for them to come here, with the fans behind us.
“We have to do our job and try to do the best we can.
“It all depends on us. We all know Barcelona like having the ball. We have to try to make the match cat and mouse.
“When I was younger I was dreaming about playing in a game like this. I think everyone does.”
Barcelona are top of La Liga while Chelsea are struggling to maintain fourth place in the Premier League. Rudiger does not think league form will count. “The mental side of it is different because you can see Real Madrid haven’t been doing as well as they’re used to in the Spanish League,” he said. “But in the Champions League they did very well against Paris St Germain. This is a different competition, it’s two games.
“This is a chance for us to do things right and we have to take it.
“You have to be mentally ready when the referee blows the whistle. The team needs to have one mind, to go on the pitch and try to win.”
While Barcelona have Messi, Chelsea have Hazard. “They will have to worry and care about players we have, like Hazard, Olivier Giroud, Alvaro Morata, Cesc Fabregas,” said Rudiger.
“There are 11 players on that pitch and we will have to care about anyone on the pitch. The same goes for them.”