After Manchester United, Barcelona. After Sevilla, Barcelona. The visit of Chelsea to Camp Nou, with the score poised at 1-1, was disquieting and there were reasons during the match for that concern. Chelsea are a very good side who have been involved in a recent rivalry with Barça due to the frequency with which they have been drawn together. Chelsea proved they are good side home and away but they lacked a slice of luck, hitting the post four times during the 180 minutes. They also lacked Leo Messi, who scored twice to decide the tie – reaching 100 goals in the Champions League - and laid on the assist for Ousmane Dembélé’s goal. The Argentinean rendered Chelsea’s long and determined defence futile.
Chelsea were not adventurous and engineered their own downfall by attempting to stem Barça's attacks. What did they expect; Antonio Conte is Italian, after all. But it took Messi just two minutes to dismantle Chelsea’s intent with a drive into the area, a one-two and a shot through Thibaut Courtois’ legs. A timely goal. That forced Chelsea onto the front foot and offered us an attractive game. Conte’s side contains some very good players and they have pride. N’Golo Kante is magnificent in his distribution and recovery; Marcos Alonso is a threat from his deep position on the left; Willian is wonderful to watch when in full flight and his performances overshadowed those of Eden Hazard across the tie. A target for Real Madrid, the Belgian was fairly anonymous on the big stage.
Chelsea attacked, but that left Messi unattended, a spot of absent-mindedness that so many teams are guilty of. The Argentinean “parks himself” well, as José Luis Mendílibar once said. In the first half he picked the pocket of his former teammate Cesc Fàbregas, whose touch let him down, charged towards the area drawing all Chelsea eyes towards him and laid on a cross that Dembélé hammered into the net. And then he parked himself again. Until in the second half when he nicked another ball, left all challengers in his wake and once again put the ball through Courtois’ legs. The game was moving in one direction, but the goals were being scored in the opposite. It was a good game and the result meant that there will be three Spanish sides in the last eight to two from England. For another year in Europe, LaLiga has trumped the Premier League.