Chelsea’s play and strategy against Barcelona on Tuesday was a true reflection of what Antonio Conte said before the game. The Italian believed his side had to suffer to get the better of Barcelona in the first leg of the Round of 16 clash.
So Chelsea did. The Premier League Champions’ display was an inspirational one, as well as laboured. They pounced on their rivals when it was required, as well as follow strict instructions to sit deep and soak in pressure from one of the best teams football has seen in its history, in keeping hold of the ball.
Lionel Messi and co were restricted to short passes in the middle of the park and at best around the 18-yard area. The diminutive Argentina international was not at his rampaging best against the Blues – and his display, had the goal not gone in – would have been described widely as drab.
Same cannot be said of most of Chelsea’s players on the night. The likes of Andreas Christensen, Cezar Azplicueta and N’Golo Kante put in a very good shift defensively, affording Willian and Pedro enough grounds to press and cause havoc – in bits – in Barcelona’s half.
What would pain Conte in a game he expected Chelsea to be perfect, was one of the two Christensen misplaced passes. The young Dane made a hash of a clearance when he guided the ball inch-perfect in the path of Andres Iniesta. A simple squared pass to Messi, broke Chelsea’s rather solid back line into two halves, and the five-time FIFA World Best Player took his chance well to score a first goal against the Blues in nine games, 730 minutes.
That goal gives the advantage in this tie to the Catalunya club, who would fancy a wider pitch back at home, and support from home fans. Barcelona are just a class above their rivals mostly at the Camp Nou and would hope one of their better days await them on March 14 for the second leg of the tie.
For Chelsea, they have left the Nou Camp with smiles in the past and if their performance last Tuesday was anything to go by, Chelsea would fancy their chances.
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