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Leo Messi came to the rescue to earn Barça a 1-1 draw in a gripping Champions League last 16 encounter at Stamford Bridge.
Barça have now gone eight consecutive games without beating Chelsea, but tonight’s draw, including that precious away goal, stand them in good stead for the second leg, set for March 14 (TICKETS), on a night when things could have ended much worse.
The latest episode in the fascinating saga between these two clubs did not disappoint.
From the very first second, both sides threw everything they had into the game. Barça sought to smother the opposition with their possession game, and Chelsea powered forward with conviction if they were generally unable to wrest the ball away from them.
Saved by the post
Many had billed this game as Eden Hazard versus Leo Messi, and the first half brought flashes of brilliance from both the flagship players.
But the man of the half was Willian. The Brazilian first slammed a chance onto Ter Stegen’s right post, and then sent a similar strike against the left.
Having been saved by the woodwork twice, Ernesto Valverde may have been somewhat relieved that the first half ended scoreless.
But seven minutes after the restart, Willian had another chance from the edge of the area. And for him, but not for Barça, it was third time lucky as he tucked the ball inside the post to nudge Chelsea into the lead.
Messi pulls Barça level
Barça had to make a bigger push forward and run the risk of exposure to Chelsea’s lethal counter-attack, and with the home side far more intent on defending rather than building their lead, the Catalans got the goal they wanted.
Rock solid at the back until then, the equaliser was the result of an uncharacteristically sloppy piece of defending from the home side.
A clumsy square ball across their own area was scooped up by Andrés Iniesta and in a flash he had slipped the ball into the path of Messi. And Messi doesn’t waste gifts like that.
After eight failed attempts, the Argentinian had finally lifted his goalscoring curse against the Londoners.
Camp Nou to decide
The draw will probably be viewed by the home side as an opportunity wasted. And Chelsea’s loss is Barça’s gain.
Messi’s equaliser changed everything. Despite failing to make as much as they would have wanted out of 73% possession, it’s now Barça who will be in the driving seat when this tie resumes in the Catalan capital next month.
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