Champions League

Match report: Lionel Messi breaks his duck against Chelsea to earn draw for Barcelona

By Mike Ikenwa


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Match Summary




10 min: Messi dribbles with great purpose down the middle, then slips a pass right for Paulinho. A low fizzing cross towards the near post nearly confuses Christensen, but the defender sorts his feet out to trap and clear. For a micro-second, it looked as though Christensen might prod that into the bottom-right corner of his own net. But all’s OK.


9 min: Rudiger, deep on the left, flashes a stunning high crossfield pass to Moses, who tears down the right and earns a corner. All the big lads come up for it. And it’s Rudiger who wins a header, ten yards out. He’s not being challenged in particularly convincing fashion, and should really do better than the weak effort that dribbles wide left of goal.


7 min: Alba bodychecks Willian as the Chelsea man makes good down the inside-right channel. A free kick, 35 yards out. Chelseaload the box. Fabregas delivers in the dismal fashion, and first man Busquets heads it clear. A nice bright start, though, both teams showing in attack.


5 min: Hazard slips a pass down the right. Willian engages Jordi Alba in a foot race. The Barca man wins. That was some battle. Chelseacome again, though, Hazard gliding in from the right and unleashing a screamer towards the top left from the edge of the box. It’s a little high and wide, but not so far away. Ter Stegen was at full stretch, and wasn’t necessarily getting there had it been on target.


3 min: Suarez, Alba and Messi combine down the left. Suddenly Messi is sashaying into the Chelsea area. He dinks a cross into the centre, but there’s nobody in burgundy there. Alonso clears. Barca come back at Chelsea, Messi again dribbling down the left. Azpilicueta crunches the little master with a fine tackle in the area, and the home side clear once more.


2 min: Barca take the opportunity to knock the ball around the back awhile, getting a feel of the thing.


And we’re off! Chelsea get the ball rolling for the first quarter of this two-legged set-to! A huge roar greets the kick-off. Moses plays the ball down the right in the hope of setting Willian away, but the flag goes up for offside.


The teams are out! Chelsea are in their famous blue kit; Barca are forced into third-choice burgundy. A wonderful atmosphere at the Bridge, as you’d expect when two of European football’s behemoths take each other on. It’s the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham versus Catalunya! We’ll be off in a minute, once pennants have been exchanged, hands have been shaken, and Zadok the Priest has been ritually disembowelled.


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Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez warm up before the match. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters


Pre-match team talk. Can Chelsea see off Barca tonight? It’s a big ask, but it’s perfectly possible.

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Chelsea vs Barcelona: four things the blues can do to beat Messi men


Remember this?


Chelsea-Barcelona: not entirely a modern rivalry. Here’s Paul Johnson to explain: “It’s not entirely a new fixture: they met in the 1966 Fairs Cup semi-final, 0-2, 2-0 and 0-5 play-off. The home leg included Charlie Cooke’s debut and two own goals from memory. The tie was also delayed by a week when Tommy Docherty arranged for Fulham Fire Brigade to flood the pitch so the match would be postponed and key players could recover from injury. Happy days.” Ah yes, the old Fairs Cup. Not a competition organised by Uefa, you see, so they don’t consider it an official part of the European records. Which is a bit of a rum do, all told, and kind of distorts the picture. I should have known better. Anyway, that’s a marvellous Tommy Docherty story. You have to love The Doc. In lieu of hot Champions League action, there is another marvellous example of his trying it on, at the expense of his old pal Bill Shankly, in the second story of this old Joy of Six.


Chelsea make seven changes to the side sent out against Hull City in the FA Cup last Friday. But that was a slightly random selection, given the Championship opposition, and with this game on the horizon. Perhaps it’s more instructive to compare tonight’s teamsheet to the XI named for the last big Premier League game, against West Bromwich Albion eight evenings ago. Just the two changes, then: Davide Zappacosta and Olivier Giroud dropping to the bench, making way for Marcos Alonso and Willian.

Barcelona meanwhile are operating an if-it-ain’t-broke policy. They strolled to a 2-0 win at Eibar on Saturday, so have named exactly the same starting XI.

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Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and Andreas Christensen warm up before the match. Photo: David Klein/Reuters


No Giroud or Morata! Hazard starts as a false-nine/trequartista type role.


The teams


Preamble


Chelsea will play host to Barcelona on today in what should be one of the most enthralling ties of the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

Both clubs have won the tournament in the last decade and are giants of their domestic competitions―the Blues are Premier League champions, while Barcelona lead La Liga after falling three points shy of the title last season.

The Blaugrana are favourites going into this tie, courtesy of better form, but anything could happen over the course of two matches. Here’s a look ahead to the first leg.

  • Date: Tuesday, February 20
  • Time: 7:45 p.m. GMT/2:45 p.m. ET
  • Venue: Stamford Bridge, London
  • TV Info: BT Sports 2 (UK), Fox Sports 1 (U.S.)

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Preview

Barcelona have lost just once in 2018—in the Copa del Rey against Espanyol—and hadn’t tasted defeat in any competition since August when they suffered a loss against rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

The Catalans have slipped up recently, with draws against Getafe and Espanyol, but they still have a healthy lead in La Liga and enter the second half of the European campaign with high expectations.

Chelsea’s Premier League form has fallen off, with two losses in their last three matches, and the Blues trail Manchester City by an incredible 19 points already.

Injuries have plagued the side, although the team should see one key member return before the match against Barcelona, per Goal’s Nizaar Kinsella:

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The lack of an ace scorer has held Chelsea back since the turn of the year, as Alvaro Morata hasn’t found the net yet in 2018. Michy Batshuayi’s good form for Borussia Dortmund only makes things worse―fans are left to wonder what could have been for the Blues’ loanee―and the emphasis to score will likely fall on Eden Hazard once again against the Catalans.

Barcelona don’t concede a lot of goals―just 11 so far in La Liga―and keeping them from grabbing a vital away goal could prove tricky. Lionel Messi is again in the midst of a fine season, while Luis Suarez has rediscovered his shooting boots and Ousmane Dembele is back from injury.

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David Ramos/Getty Images

The Blaugrana have struggled with physical defences who limit space out wide in the attacking third, however, and Chelsea have the ability to do the same. Head coach Antonio Conte hasn’t been afraid to go to a three-man defence and could opt for a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 yet again, dropping his wing-backs deep.

Whether Chelsea can compete with Barcelona in midfield using such a formation remains to be seen, but it could result in a fantastic first leg.


Prediction: Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona

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