Barcelona hold the advantage going into the second leg of their last-16 Champions League clash against Chelsea after Lionel Messi capitalised on a mistake from Andreas Christensen to give his side a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Ernesto Valverde’s men had control of the game in the first half but it was Chelsea that looked the more dangerous side. Willian was denied twice by the post before the interval and Chelsea were happy to exploit the gaps left by Barcelona on the counter-attack.
The Brazilian was Chelsea’s greatest threat and he deservedly put the home side ahead just after the hour mark when he found the bottom left hand corner of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s goal with a curling effort.
Antonio Conte had produced a tactical masterclass but he couldn’t legislate for a late mistake from Christensen. The Dane looked nervy throughout and his sloppy pass just outside the 18-yard box was intercepted by Andres Iniesta, who fed Messi to score his first goal against the Blues in nine attempts.
Chelsea paid for an individual error but the side’s performance will buoy Conte going into a testing period over the next six weeks. There’s been much speculation over the Italian’s future but his side produced a performance that could only be carried out with complete faith in the manager’s judgement and they should be heading to the Nou Camp in a three week’s time without fear.
The expectation was that Barcelona would control the play and they did but there was a distinct lack of cutting edge in a side that missed the ineligible Philippe Coutinho. The visitors had 71% possession in the first half but threatened Thibaut Courtois’ goal just once – when former Tottenham man Paulinho could only head wide when he was left unmarked in the box from Messi’s cross.
Despite being starved of the ball it was Chelsea that looked the more dangerous side and Willian was denied not once but twice by either of Marc-Andre Ter Stegen’s posts before the interval. The Brazilian whipped a fine effort with his right foot from 25 yards onto the right-hand post shortly after the half-hour mark and was denied by the opposite post five minutes later.
Hazard, starting in an unorthodox false nine position, was straying wide to isolate Sergi Roberto at right-back and vindicated Conte’s decision to pick the Belgian over Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud by offering a constant threat and he was instrumental in winning a corner that would lead to WIllian’s opener. The 29-year-old side-stepped Ivan Rakitic and placed a curling effort into the bottom corner to give Chelsea a deserved lead with less than half an hour remaining.
Barcelona needed a coveted away goal but Chelsea were more than content for the Catalans to rotate the ball in front of their two banks in front of Courtois. Paulinho was hooked for Aleix Vidal immediately after Willian’s goal.
Conte had started with a back three of Christensen, Antonio Rudiger and Cesar Azpilicueta and they dealt admirably with the double threat of Messi and Luis Suarez for the bulk of the game. But the Blues pressed the self-destruct button 15 minutes from time when Christensen played an ill-advised pass across the 18-yard box that the Blues failed to clear.
Iniesta, quiet throughout, pounced on the loose ball and pulled a neat pass back for Messi to draw his side level
. It was the Argentine’s first goal against Chelsea and it gives Barcelona the advantage going into the second leg at the Nou Camp.
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