There were plenty of noteworthy performances as Chelsea hosted Barcelona in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League round-of-16 tie at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, with the match ending in an eventful 1-1 draw.
Willian, after hitting the post twice in the first-half, would put the hosts in the lead with less than half-an-hour to go but Lionel Messi would come to his side’s rescue as he popped up with a late equaliser to finally end his hoodoo against the West Londoners.
As past Chelsea-Barcelona clashes go, this was a mild-mannered affair, with football dominating the discussion and The Statesman’s player ratings for the entertaining fixture in the English capital are below:
Goalkeeper and Defence
Didn’t have much to do the whole game, save clear some back-passes but did make one important save from Luis Suarez in the second-half. Could he have done better for the goal? Difficult to say as Messi hit it first-time.
Like the rest of his fellow defenders, scarcely put a foot wrong except for that pivotal moment in the game when Barcelona equalised. Probably should have held his ground instead of trying to intercept Andreas Christensen’s loose back-pass, but everything is easy with hindsight.
Broke forward on a number of occasions and did his primary job remarkably well. Looks settled in the heart of their back-three, which will comfort the Blues faithful who initially thought the German wasn’t quite what the the club splashed the cash for.
The young Dane has had a standout season, but games like these could make or break a player’s career. Every Chelsea fan must be moaning, “Christensen, what were you thinking?” You just don’t pass across the goal, your goal, son. Shackled Luis Suarez quite well, but sadly the game will be remembered for his gaffe.
Each time Lionel Messi got the ball, Kante was there, breathing down his neck. When you’re a defensive midfielder, that means you did the job to perfection. Would have man-marked the Argentine out of the game, a stupendous achievement, had it not been for Christensen’s schoolboy error. Started promising breaks and but let down by his teammates’ poor final balls, else would have been among the goals.
All the talk about Fabregas being unable to playing a central midfield pivot seems juvenile as the Spaniard worked his socks off, while trying to keep Chelsea ticking in midfield whenever they had the ball. Couple of through-balls were inches from releasing the Blues’ pacey forwards and perhaps on another day, could have had a couple of assists.
Excellent recoveries at times to bail out his teammates, but more is expected of the Nigerian in the offensive third. It’s quite obvious that he’s one-footed and can only go down the right flank, which makes him easier to defend against.
While Moses was at least a wilful runner down the right flank, Alonso disappointed on the night as none of his trademark crosses, probably because of the lack of height in the box, or rampaging runs were visible. Got a free-kick on target, but way more power is required if you want to beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The second former Barcelona man up against his old team, Pedro didn’t fare much better than Fabregas as the likes of Wilian and Hazard were heavily involved. Plenty of work-rate, however.
Along with Kante, Chelsea’s star performer. Unlucky to hit the post twice in the first-half but his perseverance paid off as he scored a fine opener on his third attempt. Couple of chances came his way after the goal, notably the one to set up Kante, but he probably was a bit tired towards the end of the tie.
Clearly playing in a false-nine role doesn’t suit him. Did his best, held up play well, but if he wishes to justify the Ronaldo-Messi comparisons, then an awful lot more has to be produced. At times, looked almost afraid to take his man on. Should take a cue from Willian. Faded in the second-half.
Came on late in the half for the ineffectual Pedro, got booked for protesting a decision and hardly got a touch of the ball.
Replaced Fabregas as Conte decided he could do with some steel in midfield, but too little time on the pitch to make an impact.
Goalkeeper and Defence
Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Like his opposite number, didn’t have much to do. Comfortably dealt with Alonso’s free-kick and the fact that he was unsighted for Willian’s goal makes him blame-less.
Not your usual buccaneering performance from the Spaniard, with crosses rarely finding their desired target. Defended well when asked to.
Made a couple of key stops to deny the Blues from extending their lead and on his return to England, showed his class with a composed performance.
Barcelona held firm at the back largely due to Umtiti and Pique, with their centre-backs defending in unison. Stayed tight to Hazard and didn’t let him wriggle his way out of trouble.
Offensively poor, but defended resolutely, so it was a mixed bag for the stand-in Roberto. Probably won’t play the return leg as Nelson Seemed remains first-choice.
In his defence, the Brazilian isn’t a wide midfielder, but was curiously asked to play on the wing by Ernesto Valverde. Worked hard, but was quite poor in the final third and his decision-making let him down one too many times to count. Hooked just after the opener for Aleix Vidal as the visitors looked to mix things up. Not your best performance, especially when you’re trying to prove on a return to the country you left
Returned to haunt Chelsea with a deft assist, fooling their defence into thinking that a low cross for Suarez was on the cards when in fact Messi was in a better position. Iniesta’s body may be failing, but his mind is still razor-sharp and if the magician continues to perform like this, the likes of Philippe Coutinho may be forced to bide their time.
Has he lost a bit of pace? Certainly looked so as Willian left him for dead enroute to scoring the opener. Apart from that, shielded his defence ably enough. Booked as the tie came to a close.
After his booking early on, was skating on thin ice but managed to get through the game without getting sent off. Not at his tenacious best, probably hampered by the yellow card.
Apart from a delightful few runs in the first-half, looked to have gone out of the game until he popped up with a vital away goal to end his hoodoo in style. Dropped deep too often as he sought to split the Chelsea defence open with a killer through-ball but the hosts were too well-marshalled to fall for that ploy.
The hunt for his first UEFA Champions League goals goes on and while his showing against the Blues wasn’t necessarily poor, a striker lives to see the back of the net bulge and the Uruguayan wasn’t at his sharpest, for sure.
Apart from a couple of delightful turns, struggled to stretch the Chelsea defence.
Came on for Paulinho as Valverde desperately sought to up the tempo, but didn’t have the desired effect. Why he was preferred to Dembele is a mystery.
Replaced Iniest deep in injury-time, doubtful if he even touched the ball.