Messi finally breaks his duck vs. Chelsea to secure Barcelona draw
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts on Chelsea's 1-1 draw with Barcelona in their Champions League round-of-16 first leg at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
1. Messi finally breaks his Chelsea duck to earn draw
At the ninth time of asking, Lionel Messi finally scored his first goal against Chelsea to earn the Spanish giants a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge in their Champions League round-of-16 first leg.
Messi's lengthy drought against the Premier League champions, extended by a missed penalty in 2012, looked set to run on into a 10th game during a frustrating 90 minutes for the Argentinian against Chelsea.
But with his only real chance of the game, the Barcelona forward beat goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from close range on 75 minutes after being teed up by Andres Iniesta.
A careless pass by Andreas Christensen across the face of his own penalty area gifted Barcelona their chance, with Iniesta beating Cesar Azpilicueta to the loose ball on the edge of the 18-yard box before squaring to Messi.
Antonio Conte's players were bold enough to take the game to Barcelona and created enough chances to win the game. But although they could not capitalise before Willian scored his 62nd-minute opener, Chelsea did enough to make Barcelona take them seriously in the return leg.
2. Barca's defensive flaws give Chelsea hope
All is not lost for Chelsea in the second leg, despite the crushing blow of conceding Messi's equalising strike.
Chelsea will travel to the Camp Nou for next month's return fixture confident that they can score against the La Liga leaders because Ernesto Valverde's men gave the home side numerous chances to beat goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen during this game.
Willian struck the post twice in the first half before finally hitting the net on 62 minutes when he was left completely unmarked on the edge of the penalty area.
Barcelona are such a formidable attacking force that their defensive workload is often light and that may lead to the complacency that enabled Willian to score. And it is likely that Barca will have the same laissez-faire approach to the second leg, with their attitude the same as ever: that they will outscore their opponents on home turf.
But against a team of Chelsea's quality, Barcelona risk being picked off and it would be foolish to dismiss the goalscoring prospects of a team containing the likes of Eden Hazard, Willian, Pedro and Alvaro Morata.
Chelsea will clearly have to defend for their lives in Spain, and they will be under the cosh for long periods, but this Barcelona team will give them chances. If they can take at least one of them, Chelsea can make it to the quarterfinals.
3. Willian outshines Hazard
Hazard spoke ahead of this game about his belief that he was ready to "shine" on the Champions League stage against a superpower like Barcelona.
The Chelsea forward has flattered to deceive in this competition and, despite his outstanding performances in the Premier League, it would be difficult to single out a game in the Champions League that Hazard has dominated and made a crucial difference. And it didn't happen against Barcelona this time, either.
Having been handed a role as a central striker by Conte, Hazard could justifiably argue that he was playing out of position and in a role not suited to him performing at his best. But he missed a good chance to score in the first half, when he volleyed over from 18 yards, and struggled to make any kind of impact.
Hazard's performance was in direct contrast to that of Willian, though.
The Brazilian midfielder is one of the most underrated members of Conte's squad, but he has also raised his game on the Champions League stage. Indeed, it was a performance against Chelsea for Shakhtar Donetsk that earned him a move to England in the first place.
Against Barcelona, he was at his best again, hitting the woodwork twice in the first half before scoring after the interval. This was the night that Willian shone, but Hazard still has the second leg to make it count.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_