Posted by News Express | 21 February 2018 | 1,998 times
Lionel Messi struck for the first time in nine games against Chelsea to give Barcelona the upper hand from the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday by salvaging a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Willian’s fine strike just after the hour mark had put Chelsea in command after earlier hitting both posts in the first half.
However, one moment of carelessness cost Chelsea dear as Andres Iniesta intercepted Andreas Christensen’s pass to tee up Messi to swing the balance of the tie in Barca’s favour 15 minutes from time.
The English champions must now score when they travel to the Camp Nou on March 14 to have any chance of making the last eight.
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte sprang a surprise before kick-off by leaving out both Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata with Eden Hazard instead operating in the middle of a front three featuring Willian and former Barca winger Pedro Rodriguez.
And it was Hazard who sent the first warning that Barca were in for an uncomfortable evening when he fired just over from 20 yards five minutes in.
Antonio Rudiger also headed just wide in a positive opening from the hosts, but it was Barca who had the first clear chance on 16 minutes.
Chelsea constantly tried to surround Messi with three or four blue shirts to limit the Argentine’s threat, but he dug out a cross to the far post where an unmarked Paulinho headed wide.
Barca then went on to dominate possession for a large spell of the first half with their control of the ball reaching 80 percent at one stage.
However, the visitors lacked penetration before the break and were lucky to go in level at halftime.
Willian showed his ability to score from outside the box off either foot with a double against Hull City to take Chelsea into the FA Cup quarterfinals on Friday.
He was inches away from another long-range stunner when he curled onto the post from 25 yards with Marc-Andre ter Stegen beaten in the Barca goal.
Barca had kept six clean sheets in their previous seven Champions League games, but once again had good luck rather than good defending to thank four minutes before the break when Willian hooked another effort from outside the box off the woodwork.
Hazard then volleyed just over as Chelsea ended the half on a high.
Barca appeared to have restored order early second period, but failed to learn their lesson of Willian’s danger from the edge of the box.
A short corner was worked into the Brazilian’s path and he arrowed a low shot past the rooted Ter Stegen.
However, Barca remain unbeaten in 31 La Liga and Champions League games under Ernesto Valverde thanks to a late rally.
Luis Suarez had claims for a penalty waved away when he went down under pressure from Rudiger.
But Barca’s protests had barely been silenced before they were level.
Christensen’s dangerous ball across his own box was a gift for an old scourge of Chelsea in Iniesta.
At the end where he broke Chelsea hearts with a stoppage-time equaliser in a highly controversial semifinal in 2009, Iniesta this time squared for Messi to apply the finishing touch low past Thibaut Courtois for his 28th goal of the season.
Elsewhere last night night, Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski netted twice as Bayern Munich thrashed 10-man Besiktas 5-0 on in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
Disaster struck for Besiktas after just 16 minutes when Domagoj Vida was sent off bringing down Lewandowski when the Poland striker was through on goal.
Besiktas fought gainly and held firm until just before halftime when Bayern captain Mueller scored from close range.
The floodgates opened after the break at Munich's Allianz Arena as Kingsley Coman struck before Mueller poached his second.
Bayern claimed their fourth on 79 minutes when Lewandowski pounced on a rebound after defender Mats Hummels’s long-range shot was parried.
Mueller then weighed in with an assist to set up Lewandowski for the fifth just before the final whistle.
Besiktas, making their debut in the knockout stages of the Champions League, face a near impossible task in the return leg in Istanbul on March 14 if they are to prolong their European adventure.
Bayern made a bright start when Coman’s curling shot forced Besiktas goalkeeper Fabri into a save on nine minutes, Joshua Kimmich’s free-kick then headed wide by Arturo Vidal.
But Besiktas were the architects of their own downfall as a poor pass from skipper Atiba Hutchinson was snapped up by Lewandowski, who was sent tumbling by last man Vida as he closed in on goal.
Despite the dismissal of the Croatia defender, Bayern initially struggled to make the advantage count as the Besiktas defence, marshalled by Portugal veteran centre-back Pepe, refused to buckle.
The Turkish champions created chances of their own as winger Ricardo Quaresma beat Bayern centre-back Hummels before firing wide, while Pepe shot over the bar.
But Bayern broke the deadlock when Coman whipped in a cross and David Alaba flicked the ball to Mueller, who tapped the ball through Fabri’s legs on 43 minutes.
Colombia playmaker James Rodriguez went off with a calf injury just after the goal, replaced by veteran winger Arjen Robben, a surprise exclusion from the starting side, in a move that pushed Mueller more to central to accommodate the Dutchman.
Bayern maintained the pressure following the restart as Lewandowski hit the post with a free-kick four minutes into the second half.
The Poland forward turned provider for Coman’s goal, passing back inside after being put in behind the defence by Mueller.
With the Besiktas defence worrying about Mueller and Vidal, Coman steamed into the area unmarked to slam home Bayern’s second goal on 52 minutes.
With Bayern peppering the Besiktas goal, visiting coach Senol Gunes sacrificed striker Vagner Love for defender Dusko Tosic to try and limit the damage.
It had little effect though as Bayern grabbed their third when Kimmich’s cross was met by Mueller at the near post on 66 minutes.
A speculative Hummels shot was kept out well by Fabri, but Lewandowski was on hand to tuck away his 28th goal of the season in all competitions on 79 minutes.
Mueller and Lewandowski combined for Bayern’s fifth goal when the Germany forward squared for his Polish teammate to cap the rout two minutes from time.
•Sourced from AFP and Reuters news agencies.
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