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.
Willian’s fine strike just after the hour mark had put Chelsea in command after earlier hitting both posts in the first half.
However, one moment of carelessness cost Chelsea dear as Andres Iniesta intercepted Andreas Christensen’s pass to tee up Messi to swing the balance of the tie in Barca’s favour 15 minutes from time.
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.
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 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.
Barca 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.
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.
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.