Wednesday 14th March 2018, Camp Nou – Barcelona and Chelsea clashed again in the second leg of the UEFA Champions league round of sixteen.
The teams had enjoyed very different fortunes since the 1 – 1 draw at Stamford Bridge in February. Chelsea had been beaten twice in Manchester by United and City, before scraping a 2-1 win vs Crystal Palace at home.
They were fifth in the league, four points behind Liverpool in fourth, and twenty-five points (yes you read that right, twenty-five points) behind league leaders Manchester City.
Barcelona had played four league games to Chelsea’s three, beating Girona and Atletico Madrid 6 – 1 and 1 – 0 respectively at home, and bottom club Malaga 2 – 0 away.
Surprisingly, their one draw had come against relegation-threatened Las Palmas, but the Catalan giants were eight points clear at the top of La Liga Santander with ten games left to play. Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez were the league’s top scorers at 24 and 21 goals, and all was right with the world.
Antonio Conte selected Olivier Giroud at lead the attack against Barcelona, with Hazard and Willian either side of him. Antonio Rudiger and Victor Moses came in for Gary Cahill and Davide Zappacosta. N’golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas started in midfield.
Andres Iniesta recovered from a hamstring problem in time to start this game on the left wing of Barcelona’s 4-4-2. Ousmane Dembele made a rare Champions League start on the opposite wing.
Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets paired up in midfield, and Messi returned from paternity leave to start in attack, alongside Luis Suarez.
Line-Ups & Ratings
ter Stegen 7, Alba 6.5, Umtiti 7.5, Pique 7.5, Sergi 6, Dembele 8 (Vidal 6), Rakitic 7, Busquets 7.5 (Gomes 6), Iniesta 7.5 (Paulinho 6.5), Luis Suarez 8.5, Messi 9
Subs Cillesen, Digne, Vermaelen, Alcacer, Paulinho, Gomes, Vidal
Courtois 2.5, Moses 5.5 (Zappacosta 5.5), Azpilicueta 5, Christensen 5.5, Rudiger 5.5, Alonso 6, Kante 7, Fabregas 5, Willian 7.5, Hazard 7 (Pedro 5.5), Giroud 7.5 (Morata 4.5)
Subs Caballero, Zappacosta, Cahill, Emerson, Bakayoko, Pedro, Morata
In No Time At All
It took no time at all for Barcelona to get things started, courtesy of some comedic defending from their opponents. Chelsea looked to sit back and keep it calm and compact at first, with all their players except Giroud behind the ball.
Their hosts had all of the game’s possession until the third minute, when Lionel Messi came in from the right wing to exchange passes with Ousmane Dembele. The young winger’s return pass actually came off Marcos Alonso’s foot straight to Luis Suarez, who played it back out to Messi in space.
Messi was at an extremely tight angle but he opted to shoot for goal. Thibaut Courtois had the near post covered, but somehow the shot went between his legs, and ricocheted off the inside of his knee and into goal for 1 – 0.
It was the second nutmeg goal Chelsea’s first-choice keeper had conceded in two consecutive games. The goal counted for Messi, but in actual fact his shot was off target – it was a Courtois own goal.
Chelsea came out searching for an equalizer. They created some good chances, but lacked their opponents’ deadly finishing.
Willian crossed a free kick towards goal, but Jordi Alba put the ball out for a corner.
Shortly afterwards, Willian put another low cross into the box on the fast break, but Samuel Umtiti calmly cut the ball out before Giroud could finish.
Willian had another chance on twelve minutes, firing in a daisy-cutter from a long way out, but ter Stegen saved and held the shot.
And then on twenty minutes Barcelona came forward on the counterattack, and the Chelsea defence creaked and splintered again.
Hazard tried a shot, but Umtiti blocked it at point blank range. The ball rebounded all the way back to midfield, where Messi stole possession and raced out left on the counter.
He might have taken the ball into the box himself, but instead passed along the edge of the area, all the way across to the opposite wing. Marcos Alonso was nowhere to be found, and Dembele had the time and space to stabilize, then whip a thunderbolt into the opposite corner. Courtois got a touch, but it wasn’t strong enough to stop the shot from going in for 2 – 0.
Alonso had an opportunity from a free kick just before half time, but his curler struck the post and went out again.
Not The Best Start
Chelsea did not start the second half auspiciously. Just a few minutes in, Courtois passed the ball to Luis Suarez, but then somehow managed to save the Uruguayan’s shot.
Alonso, through on goal and one on one with the keeper, had a golden chance to pull one back… but he chose to go to ground under pressure from Gerard Pique. The referee correctly ignored Chelsea’s calls for a penalty and booked Giroud for dissent.
Alonso had the ball in a dangerous area left of goal and lined it up, but Pique made a last-ditch tackle to block his shot.
On sixty-three minutes, Barcelona streamed forward again on the counter. Messi dribbled round Azpilicueta to go one on one with the keeper, but he was at another acute angle and Courtois was again favoured at the near post. Another Messi shot, another nutmeg goal.
It was 3 – 0 now with three goals in two consecutive games against Chelsea, for the Argentinian magician. Courtois again delivering an excellent impression of a Sunday league player.
Pedro and Morata came on, but the pace of the game slowed – it was clear some of the Chelsea players had given up on the tie. Rudiger headed a corner into the post late on, but that was the most he or his team could do.
Final Score Barcelona 3 – 0 Chelsea
Thumbnail image courtesy of: Sports Illustrated
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