Barcelona, Chelsea UCL tie delicately poised - FCNaija

Champions League By: Ambrose Udeme | 21/02/2018

After nearly 16 months since Barcelona last faced English opposition, and with a lot of changes having occurred during that time, the Spanish giants since their emphatic 3-1 defeat at Manchester City in November 2016 returned to England and snatched a vital away goal at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday against Chelsea to leave this tie still delicately poised.

Lionel Messi's first goal in nine Champions League games against Chelsea gave Barcelona a potentially vital away goal as they rode their luck to earn a draw in the first leg of their last-16 tie at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea fans could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to Lionel Messi because the Argentine had failed to score in any of his eight previous games against the London club - the most he's played against any team without scoring. In fact, the last meeting between the teams resulted in one of Messi's greatest personal disappointments as he missed a crucial penalty in the second leg of the 2012 semi-final at the Nou Camp, with the Blues going on to win the competition in Munich.

Messi also had a poor record against Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, who went six games without conceding against the Barca talisman during his final season with Atletico Madrid in 2013-14 - a campaign that ended with Atletico beating Messi's Barca to the title on the last day of the season and knocking them out of the Champions League.

But surely records like that are only meant to be broken by players with the quality of Messi, who headed into Tuesday's game in fabulous form having already scored 27 goals in all competitions this season. Chelsea had managed to establish an unlikely stranglehold on the genius of Messi who had not scored against Chelsea in eight previous Champions League appearances - and for large portions of a high-quality game, it looked as though he would be frustrated once more until he provided the emphatic finish that gave his side a potentially crucial away goal.

Messi's strike has now provided the springboard with which Barcelona can get themselves into the quarter-finals but still the return leg stares them in the face - especially against a side that have only lost twice in six matches at Camp Nou (D4).

While a lot had been said about the crisis Chelsea prior to the clash on Tuesday with manager Antonio Conte repeatedly moaning over the club's transactions in the transfer market, the Italian who has never made it past the quarter-finals of the Champions League as a manager will have to shoulder the blame should the Blues fail to come away with a positive result in a ground they've never won a single match. Many have meanwhile questioned Chelsea's starting XI and their approach as Conte decided to field a false nine than start a natural point man.

Conte was so nearly rewarded for his selection gamble, the decision to field Willian, Pedro and Hazard as a fluid attacking trio proving a masterstroke for 75 minutes. Then Messi struck, breaking his Chelsea duck and the hearts of those inside Stamford Bridge. Given the tight nature of the first leg, that away goal could prove crucial in the final reckoning.

This, of course, is most important for the fact that the Camp Nou leg of this tie is not only 'alive' it’s bristling with interest and sporting tension. However, what will entrance the world for the next few days is the brilliance of Willian's performance and the way that Messi, somehow, found a response.

The likes of Messi and Suarez are expected to make things happen in the 2nd leg against Conte's men, but Chelsea will draw confidence from their history at Camp Nou and fight them. But for this to happen, the Londoners will have to play a different type of game. If they sit back, they will lose, meaning Conte needs to take the risk he didn't take at Stamford Bridge.

On what his side will need to do in the second leg, Conte after a game that Chelsea should have been more positive considering they were playing at home instead of trying to limit the damage which was negative in their own ground said: "You have to respect the opponent and, in this case, when you play against Barcelona, you know very well that if you want to face them box to box you are crazy, you are going to lose the game not only 1-0 or 2-0 but 4-0, 5-0 or 6-0. You must use intelligence.

"We are trying to build something important with a lot of young players, and when you have young players you need experience. For this reason, you must play an intelligent game, we are not stupid." said the Blues manager who would be expect expected to play a waiting game in the 2nd leg - a negative approach in my opinion.

Barcelona ahead of the return will be buzzing with the impressive stats of its talisman Messi this season and will count on the Argentine to drown the Blues. In 2009 when Barcelona qualified for the Champions League final Messi had never scored against an English team but he's sorted that.

At the beginning of this season he'd never scored against Gigi Buffon - that unwanted stat was dispensed with. Before Tuesday, it was infamous that he'd never found the net against Chelsea and when it counted most that record was shattered too. It remains to be seen how the Blues defense will cope with the phenomenal forward on a wider Camp Nou pitch.