Lionel Messi Goal Earns Barcelona Draw vs. Chelsea in UEFA Champions League

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistFebruary 20, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 20: Lionel Messi  of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-1 during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 First Leg match between Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on February 20, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images

Lionel Messi scored his first goal in nine appearances against Chelsea to earn Barcelona a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their last-16 UEFA Champions League tie at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night.

Messi's second-half away goal cancelled out Willian's opener and means Barca have the advantage into the return leg at the Camp Nou on March 14.

Chelsea started Eden Hazard up front, with Willian and Pedro in support. Meanwhile, Barca had Luis Suarez and Messi leading a 4-4-2 formation:

It was the visitors who owned the ball for large chunks of the opening 45 minutes. The Blaugrana passed the ball effortlessly and relentlessly though midfield but usually found themselves bogged down at the edge of the Chelsea box.

In fairness, Barca's struggles in the final third were created by Chelsea's rigid and disciplined defensive shape. Simon Johnson of the London Evening Standard described how the Blues' tactical structure was working:

It wasn't all about defending, though, as the hosts went closest to scoring despite Barcelona's dominance of possession. Willian struck each post at the end of a pair of rapid breaks, with Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen beaten on both occasions.

The woodwork had saved La Liga's leaders, leaving the match goalless at the break. Barca's blunt attacking play was best illustrated by the lack of involvement for Suarez, per OptaJohan:

The play followed a similar pattern at the start of the second half, with Barcelona bossing the ball but hitting a wall in the final third. The one notable difference was a greater threat from Suarez, who forced Thibaut Courtois into a decent save after a terrific touch took him past Cesar Azpilicueta.

A brilliant turn from the Uruguayan had Andreas Christensen snatching at air moments later, as Suarez won a corner. Typically, though, Barca couldn't make the set piece count.

The Blaugrana were made to pay when Willian finally found his range just after the hour mark, angling a low drive into the bottom right corner to give Chelsea the lead.

Hazard had supplied the pass for Willian, and Squawka Football detailed how prolific the pair have been in Europe's premier club competition:

Chelsea had been error-free at the back, but their defence came undone with just over 15 minutes left when a pass from Christensen from the left flank ran across his own box to Iniesta. The 33-year-old smartly picked out Messi, who swept a left-footed shot out of the reach of Courtois.

Messi's goal meant the end of his lengthy drought against a familiar foe:

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte changed things by introducing striker Alvaro Morata for Pedro and swapping Danny Drinkwater for a tiring Fabregas. The changes weren't enough to get the hosts back in the game, though.

Conte's men will rue the consequences of their rare mistake at the back. It means Barcelona are in the driver's seat for the second leg, with Messi, Suarez and Co. formidable at home.

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