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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Messi ends drought to give Barcelona last-16 edge over Chelsea

Willian’s fine strike just after the hour mark had put Chelsea in command after hitting both posts in the first half

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, second right, celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Champions League tie with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Nick Potts/PA via AP
Barcelona's Lionel Messi, second right, celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Champions League tie with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Nick Potts/PA via AP

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.

“Willian could have had a hat-trick – but we go home sad because a fantastic performance is not a fantastic result,” Chelsea’s former Barca midfielder Cesc Fabregas told BT Sport.

“We have to go there to attack and score because 90 minutes defending at the Nou Camp is an eternity, it is a suicide mission. We have to play our game.”

Nine years on from combining for a stoppage-time equaliser in a highly controversial semi-final at Stamford Bridge to send Barca to the final, Iniesta and Messi swapped roles as this time the Spaniard provided the pass and Messi the finish.

“They are one of the best teams in Europe, they have great players and this is the Champions League. In this competition any move or mistake can cost you a lot,” Iniesta told TV3.

“I think it will be a different game at home. Playing in front of our fans, on our pitch.”

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.

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 but the visitors lacked penetration before the break and were lucky to go in level at half-time.

Willian showed his ability to score from outside the box off either foot on Friday, with a double against Hull City to take Chelsea into the FA Cup quarter-finals.

He was inches away from another long-range stunner when he curled a shot on to 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 in the 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, and Messi made no mistake by sweeping low past Thibaut Courtois for his 28th goal of the season.