In one of the highest profile last-16 games in this season’s Champions League, Chelsea welcomed Barcelona to Stamford Bridge for the first-leg tie between the two clubs. The Blues had a great record against the Blaugrana heading into this clash, and have a history of success in Europe, but the Catalan giants looked to continue their imperious form La Liga into this prestigious tournament.
A cagey start to a high-profile clash
The occasion was not lost on fans of either side, and the atmosphere inside Stamford Bridge was rocking as the game began. The early exchanges were tentative, with neither side wanting to make a mistake, but it was Chelsea who had the first real chance of the game. Eden Hazard, playing as a makeshift striker in this game, shifted the ball onto his left foot at the edge of the box, but his shot flew just wide of the post. The levels of possession were fairly balanced in the opening 10 minutes, which is a rarity in a game involving Barcelona, but the visitors soon settled into a passing rhythm and began to take control of the match.
Even as Barca’s levels of possession increased they struggled to create many openings in Chelsea’s defence. The home side were sitting in two solid banks, not pressing the ball but instead closing off the pockets of space in which Lionel Messi thrives. The tactical decision seemed to be working, but the visitors’ surgeon-like approach soon allowed them to create a few half chances. A whipped cross from Messi found Paulinho open in the box, but the former Tottenham midfielder guided his header wide of the far post, though Thibaut Courtois was rooted to the spot. The effort provided a warning sign for the Chelsea defenders, who continued to hold firm.
Willian hits both posts, but can’t grab a goal
Barcelona continued to utterly dominate the possession as the half hour mark approached, and it became a backs-to-the-wall defensive effort for Chelsea. The Blues found themselves with no out ball on most occasions, and the absence of both Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata meant that Antonio Conte’s side had little aerial presence up top. Hazard, who was the acting striker, cut an isolated figure for long spells, and it seemed only a matter of time before the Blaugrana broke the deadlock. Their lack of penetrative attacks however made creating chances difficult, and Chelsea began to find their feet as a counter-attacking outfit.
Typically it was the Blues who had the best chance of the half, despite all of Barcelona’s dominance, and it came courtesy of Willian. The Brazilian international curled a beautiful shot from the edge of the box onto the far post, and it ricocheted straight back out, much to the relief of Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Barca net. The chance buoyed the home side and they suddenly sparked into action, putting some pressure on Sergio Busquets and the visiting defenders. Incredibly, Willian soon went on to smash a second shot into the other post, from a similar position to his first effort. It was another unlucky strike from the winger, but ultimately another chance squandered, and the teams went in level upon the referee’s half-time whistle.
Willian finally gets his goal
Neither manager made any changes for the second period, and normal service was resumed immediately as Barcelona once again took control of the lion’s share of possession. As with the first half, the Blaugrana found themselves facing a well-organised block of Chelsea defenders, and Luis Suarez in particular found it difficult to get a touch of the ball.
On one of the rare occasions that the striker did touch the ball he almost managed to squeeze in a shot from a tight angle down the left channel, but a strong hand from Courtois denied the Uruguayan. The Blues lacked much of their previous attacking threat after the break, and they were pinned back into their own third of the pitch for long spells.
On the break however when they did get chances the Blues did look dangerous, and Willian finally managed to get his goal on the hour mark. A short corner routine found the Brazilian on the edge of the box, and this time he caressed it into the bottom corner, once again leaving Ter Stegen rooted to the spot, and the rest of the Barcelona players stunned.
Messi drills in a vital equaliser
You would have been forgiven for thinking that the Chelsea goal would spark Barcelona into life in an attacking sense, but they visitors didn’t change the tempo of their game much at all. Their continued probing approach did little to open up the Blues’ back line, and their possession was largely concentrated in the areas between the half way line and Chelsea’ penalty area.
In the end it took a mistake from the home defence for the Blaugrana to grab their equaliser, and who else but Messi was the man to step up. A poor ball across the penalty area by Andreas Christensen allowed Andres Iniesta to nip in and square a pass to the legendary Argentinian, who slotted home coolly into the bottom corner, sending Courtois diving the wrong way. It was Messi’s first ever goal against Chelsea, and an incredibly valuable one at that, bringing his side right back into the game.
The equaliser turned the game on its head, and it became a much more open affair than it had when Chelsea had been in front. Both sides knew that second goal would significantly boost their chances of progressing, especially with the second leg in the Camp Nou on the horizon. Neither side seemed able to create any more chances of note however, and in the end Barcelona left Stamford Bridge with a valuable away goal.
Chelsea were arguably the better side on the night, despite seeing very little of the ball, and Willian on his own could have had a hat-trick. The Blues did well to stifle Barcelona’s attackers, and had it not been for a silly mistake they could have headed to the Nou Camp in a more commanding position. As it is they will need an even more impressive performance in Catalonia in order to progress.
Barcelona were not at their best this evening, and were neutralised by Antonio Conte’s tactical decisions for much of the game. Unfortunately for Chelsea, Lionel Messi only needs one chance to change a game, and he did just that, putting the Blaugrana in a good spot heading back to the Nou Camp. A 0-0 draw will now see them through, so they hold the advantage.
Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Rudiger, Moses, Alonso; Fabregas (Drinkwater, 84’), Kante; Willian, Hazard, Pedro (Morata, 83’)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, Alba; Paulinho (Vidal, 64’), Rakitic, Busquets, Iniesta (Gomes, 90+2); Messi, Suarez
Goals: Willian (1-0, 62’), Messi (1-1, 75’)
Referee: Cuneyt Cakir
Yellow Cards: Rakitic (29’), Suarez (77’), Rudiger (80’), Morata (86’), Busquets (90’)
Red Cards: None
Chelsea: Courtois 6; Azpilicueta 8, Christensen 7, Rudiger 7, Moses 7, Alonso 7; Fabregas 7 (Drinkwater n/a), Kante 7; Willian 8.5, Hazard 7, Pedro 6 (Morata n/a)
Barcelona: Ter Stegen 6; Roberto 6, Pique 6, Umtiti 7, Alba 7; Paulinho 6 (Vidal n/a), Rakitic 7, Busquets 7, Iniesta 7 (Gomes n/a); Messi 8, Suarez 6