Date: 20th February 2018
Venue: Stamford Bridge
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi applied a huge blow to Chelsea’s Champions League hopes by scoring his first ever goal against the Blues in an absorbing 1-1 last-16 first leg draw at Stamford Bridge.
Antonio Conte’s side has taken a 62nd minute lead through Willian’s 25-yard strike before Messi scored from an Andreas Christensen mistake to convert from Andreas Iniesta’s pass, whilst ending his drought for a goal against the defending Premier League champion at the ninth clash.
The Blues now face a huge uphill task in the reverse fixture on 14 March to avoid a European exit which would only raise the flame of a speculation over Conte’s future as manager. Conte’s cautious team selection, opting to leave both the strikers Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud on the bench in favour of deploying Eden Hazard as a false nine.
The Belgian flashed a fifth minute shot off-target from the edge of the box as Chelsea held their own in the opening exchanges before Barcelona gradually asserted control.
Messi created some space for himself just outside Chelsea’s box and stood up a superb cross towards the far post where Paulinho was lurking unmarked. However the former Spurs midfielder could only steer a tame header wide.
The Brazilian collected a pass from Hazard 25 yards out before driving past Busquets and sent a curling effort against Marc- Andre ter Stegen’s left-hand upright with the Barcelona keeper rooted to his spot.
He tried to beat him from a similar distance, but to the other side- eight minutes later only with the same outcome, as the ball came back off the woodwork.
The game returned to a familiar pattern – Barcelona probing while Chelsea looked to break at pace – but the Catalan giants needed a helping hand from Christensen who hit a poor pass across his own area which Iniesta picked up in a dangerous position inside the box. He typically feeded the Argentinian in space and Messi converted first time before speeding off to celebrate in front of Barca’s travelling fans.
As Messi stroked in the equaliser Conte crumpled dramatically, and stared at the ground like a man who got stabbed in the guts. But Chelsea will still travel in hope: a match for this Barcelona team, if not quite for that enduringly genio puro human being in the No 10 shirt.