20th of February 2018

Blues are held at The Bridge in first leg contest (1-1)

Willian gave Chelsea the lead in this big Round of 16 tie with a sweet second-half strike but a defensive lapse allowed Lionel Messi to net an away goal.

The goalscorer had twice gone extremely close to breaking the deadlock in the first half of a close and enthralling contest, but on each occasion watched his shot rebound off the woodwork. Instead it took until just past the hour for the breakthrough to come but after it had, what had been a strong defensive performance looked capable of maintaining that advantage.

Messi’s first goal against Chelsea however means we go to Spain in three weeks’ time with the score all-square.

A lot of the team line-up speculation before the game was on whether Antonio Conte would select Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud as his centre-forward but he opted for neither, instead supporting Eden Hazard with Willian and Pedro, both of whom had performed well in the previous game, the win over Hull here on Friday.

With a front-three selected, the central midfield was manned by two - Cesc Fabregas given the opportunity to take on his former club with N’Golo Kante alongside him. Toni Rudiger had the nod over Gary Cahill on the left of the defence, and outside the German there was the welcome return of Marcos Alonso after three games out.

Barcelona named the same 11 as won against Eibar on Saturday but with a changed shape. Tonight they lined up 4-2-3-1, placing Messi behind Luis Suarez with Paulinho wide right and captain Andres Iniesta on the left.

Stamford Bridge was buzzing with anticipation for this one to begin. There were a few misplaced passes from both sides within the first five minutes, Iniesta included, but also a powerfully struck shot from Hazard that had the crowd whooping as it went close.

Willian, who would go on to be one the game’s most prominent players, won a free-kick centrally and deep in Barcelona territory, and Rudiger sprayed a long pass to Victor Moses in space as the Blues kept our opponents pegged back for a few minutes.

That ultimately led to a corner and it was our German international defender who had the leap to meet it, but he sent the ball wide.

Hazard, although nominally the centre-forward, popped up on the left in the 13th minute after he had earlier in the move played the target-man role well. From out wide he beat Paulinho and centred, but although the attack was eventually ended by a Kante handball, the promising start by Chelsea was continuing.

With quarter-of-an-hour played, Barcelona made their first chance, Messi finding the head of Paulinho but the former Spurs player headed wide.

That was the start of allowing the Spaniards a foothold in the game, and we went long periods without the ball. That will have been planned for.

A Hazard- Fabregas link-up almost found a way through the Barca backline to Pedro before Willian shrugged off Iniesta and ran at their heart. His heels were clipped; that was a booking for Ivan Rakitic, but although Marcos Alonso hit the target with his free-kick, it lacked the pace of his best strikes and Marc-Andre ter Stegen made the save.

In the 33rd minute Willian did hit a shot in open play with all the power needed. Sadly it lacked just an inch or two of direction, and rebounded off the post. The Brazilian had surged away from Sergio Busquets to make room for his strike.

Seven minutes later Willian was rubbing his forehead in immense frustration when he hit another rocket from outside the area with similar result – the only difference being this one struck the other upright. Conte on the touchline was a frustated figure too, leaping around having seen his team go so agonisingly close. Hazard was not far away with a flying volley after Barcelona weakly cleared a Fabregas free-kick. Chelsea were causing their defence problems when we could get at it, but half-time arrived with the game goalless.

Pedro must have enjoyed dispossessing his former colleague Messi and sending Chelsea on the attack soon after the restart, but it was Suarez who was at the centre of the first meaningful attempt on goal when he slipped the attention of Azpilicueta, but the former Liverpool man dragged his shot across the face of the target.

Chelsea were still playing some good stuff, and Hazard and Willian worked a counter-attack from which a Fabregas shot went for a corner. It was played short to Hazard, who picked out Willian in space, and how the Brazilian deserved what followed.

This time his low shot from similar distance as his previous two was inch-perfect. It was low, curling inwards and went just inside the post, with Rudiger doing well to keep out the way. The champions of England had struck first, 62 minutes into the tie.

We threatened to double the advantage on 74 minutes after Hazard had done brilliantly to release Willian but opting not to go for a difficult pass to Kante out in space, his attempt to take on the defence failed. Moments later we conceded in a regretful manner. The Blues were in possession out wide but Christensen’s ball across our penalty area evaded the stretching Azpilicueta. Iniesta pounced and found Messi who beat Courtois with a first-time drive.

Rudiger was booked for a challenge on halfway as the game reached 10 minutes to go. Suarez had earlier been carded for dissent, as was Morata shortly after he came on. Danny Drinkwater was introduced for the final minutes too and a yellow card for Busquets close to the end completed the game’s key statistics. There were no late attempts on either goal.

The world will be watching when this tight one is decided in Camp Nou on 14 March.


- Match stats:

Chelsea (3-4-3): Courtois; Azpilicueta (c), Christensen, Rudiger; Moses, Fabregas (Drinkwater 84), Kante, Alonso; Willian, Hazard, Pedro (Morata 83).
Scorer Willian 62
Booked Rudiger 80, Morata 86

Barcelona (4-2-3-1): Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umiti, Jordi Alba; Rakitic, Busquets; Paulinho (Vidal 63), Messi, Iniesta (c) (Gomes 90); L Suarez.
Scorer Messi 75
Booked Rakitic 30, Suarez 76, Busquets 90+3

Referee Cuneyt Cakir from Turkey
Crowd 37,741

- Match report by chelseafc.com


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