The talking was over and the time had finally arrived for the action to begin. Antonio Conte, with his team selection, was either poking Roman Abramovich with a stick or pulling a masterstroke.
The initial signs were the former as Barcelona stroked the ball around and Lionel Messi roamed free. The Argentinian had never scored against Chelsea but looked like a man on a mission.
Chelsea survived the first 20 minutes as Barcelona tried to pass them to death, grabbing a 75:25 possession ratio. It looked as though there were two extra red shirts on the pitch. Add into that Chelsea`s desire to join in the fun by passing to the opposition and the evening looked like it could be a long one.
The best chances though, were falling Chelsea`s way. Hazard speculatively shot the across the Barca goal before Antonio Rudiger managed a header, close-in that he could have done better with. Chelsea were warming to the game. The chances kept coming the blues way, Willian, who, excuse me, was having a great game was cynically scythed down by Ivan Rakitic as he ran on goal.
It was an opportunity for Marcos Alonso to rev up his shooting boots. The ball was a bit further out than he would maybe like, but it was in range nonetheless. He cleared the wall and hit the target but Ter Stegen saved low to his left.
Chelsea were growing in confidence, and Barca were feeling the heat. Conte`s plan was to soak up the pressure and hit the Catalans fast on the break. As soon as Chelsea gained possession the front three would race forwards.
Chelsea`s Vital Chelsea fall guy, Willian curled a shot goal bound that thumped back off the post, with Stegen nowhere near it. It was a feat he completed with the opposite upright shortly after.
Meanwhile Rakitic was walking a tightrope with some of the tackles he was putting in. He was clearly not aware of this fixtures history regarding sending offs. He would likely find himself victim of an early substitution. As half-time approached, with Barcelona still dominating the ball, that possession had produced very little to trouble Thibaut Courtois.
Half-time Chelsea 0-0 Barcelona
The second half began in a similar fashion to the first. Barcelona kept the ball and Chelsea chased it around. We`ve seen this scenario many times though. Possession counts for nothing at all in this game. Ask Jermaine Jenas.
In a similar vein to the first half though, all of Barcelona`s huff and puff amounted to barely anything. Chelsea still looked the likelier scorers. And it was so. Another quick break saw Willian run on goal and and fire low to the keepers left, this time just inside the post.
Willian`s goal for your pleasure: pic.twitter.com/3KwcMHnqNm
? Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) February 20, 2018
For so long, the brunt of so much abuse, Willian once again proved the haters wrong. Unfortunately it was a lead that only lasted for 13 minutes. It came courtesy of an unfortunate mistake by Andreas Christensen, whereby he committed the ultimate defenders sin and played the ball across the goal.
The misdirected pass allowed Iniesta the chance of grabbing the ball and he calmly played the ball back across the box for Messi to the pass the ball into the net.
After that Conte replaced Pedro with Morata, and Drinkwater for Fabregas, as Barcelona did their best to run down the clock. There was a flurry of fouls as the game reached its crescendo but flattened off as time ran out. The final score was 1-1. Chelsea could leave the field happy with their performance on the night. Antonio Conte`s team selection vindicated.
At the start of the game, most would have taken a 1-1 draw, most, however would not have predicted Chelsea`s goal scorer. Chelsea head to the Nou Camp still in with a good shout at progressing, they`ll need a goal, but they have done it before and they are more than capable of doing it again.
That game takes place in just over three weeks on the 14th March. And relax???..