Premier League TV schedule for NBC Sports Group released

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The day you’ve all been waiting for is here. Get excited.

On Monday afternoon NBC Sports released the TV schedule for coverage of the Premier League for the 2013-14 season.

Here are all the details for the opening three months of games, as England’s top league will be aired exclusively in the US by NBC Sports group.

Take a look through the detailed lists below to see when your team is playing and get the lowdown on all the big matchups coming to a TV screen near you.

Let the games begin.

Details

Unprecedented Coverage of All Premier League Matches

Debuts Saturday, August 17 at 7:00 AM ET

on NBC Sports Network

69 Live TV Game Windows through Dec. 1 Include

57 Matches on NBC Sports Network, 10 on NBC,

27 on Telemundo/mun2 & 61 on Premier League Extra Time

All 130 Matches in First 3 Months Available on

NBC Sports Live Extra

More Than 100 Distributors Nationwide to Carry Games

Via Premier League Extra Time Package and TV Everywhere

STAMFORD, Conn. – July 29, 2013 – Following the Premier League’s announcement of the first three months of the 2013-14 schedule on July 11, NBC Sports Group today released its television schedule for that time period featuring live coverage of all 130 matches, beginning Saturday, August 17 at 7:00 AM ET on NBC Sports Network with the Liverpool-Stoke matchup.

A total of 69 Premier League matches – at least five games each week in the season’s first three months – will be presented on NBC Sports Network, NBC and CNBC with all games preceded and followed by Premier League Live pre- and post-match shows from the NBC Sports Group International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Conn.

The 61 remaining Premier League matches will be made available on Premier League Extra Time, a bonus television package available to MVPDs at no extra cost for customers who receive NBC Sports Network.

In addition, 27 matches in the season’s first three months will be telecast in Spanish by Telemundo and mun2.

All Premier League games will be streamed on NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices and tablets. Games airing on NBC Sports Network will be live streamed via “TV Everywhere,” the media industry’s effort to make quality content available to MVPD customers both in and out of the home and on multiple platforms.

Premier League Matches, First 3 Months, By Outlet

NBC Sports Network

57

NBC

10

CNBC

2

Telemundo/mun2

27

NBC Sports Live Extra

130

Premier League Extra Time

61

To date, AT&T U-verse®, Cablevision’s Optimum, Comcast’s Xfinity TV, DIRECTV, DISH, and Suddenlink have opted to carry the additional Premier League matches via the Premier League Extra Time package, and AT&T U-verse, Cablevision’s Optimum, Comcast’s Xfinity TV, Cox, DIRECTV, DISH, Suddenlink and Verizon FiOS will make all Premier League games available through TV Everywhere. Additionally, over 100 NCTC partners have either signed-on to the Premier League Extra Time package or have opted-in via TV Everywhere, including Blue Ridge Communications, Buckeye CableSystem, CenturyLink Prism, and RCN.

Following are schedule highlights for the first three months of the Premier League season:

Saturday, August 17, 7:45 AM ET on NBCSN

LIVERPOOL v STOKE

NBC Sports Group’s first-ever telecast of Premier League action features the Liverpool-Stoke matchup.

Saturday, August 17, 12:30 PM ET on NBC & mun 2

SWANSEA CITY v MANCHESTER UNITED

Manager David Moyes takes the reins of the Premier League’s most decorated team – returning champions Manchester United – from their legendary manager of over 26 years, Sir Alex Ferguson.   The Red Devils’ first test comes against a fiery Swansea side.

Sunday, August 18, 11:00 AM ET on NBCSN & mun2

CHELSEA v HULL CITY

Chelsea, last season’s third-place finishers, begin their campaign against newly promoted side, Hull City. Jose Mourinho, “the Special One,” is back as the Blues manager to the delight of the Chelsea faithful.  With an all-star international line-up, Chelsea will be looking for strong showing  against the Tigers, whose quest to avoid a trip back to the Championship begins against one of the Premier League’s perennial powers.

Saturday, August 24, 10:00 AM ET on TBD

STOKE CITY v CRYSTAL PALACE

Stoke, established in 1863, are the oldest club in the Premier League and in their first home match of the campaign, they host newly promoted London-side Crystal Palace.  Stoke were known for playing an aggressive, physical style of soccer but new manager Mark Hughes is looking to change that, and playing against colorful manager Ian Holloway’s Crystal Palace, that now boasts rising Spain star and exciting midfielder Jose Campana, will provide an early measuring stick for both the Stoke team in transition and Palace’s rising star.

Monday, August 26, 3:00 PM ET on NBCSN

MANCHESTER UNITED v CHELSEA

In just the second week of the campaign, last season’s first- and third-place finishers meet at the Premier League’s largest stadium, Manchester United’s Old Trafford.  Eight of the last nine Premier League titles have been won by either United or Chelsea and both clubs will be under tremendous scrutiny this season with new managers.

Sunday, September 1, 8:30 AM ET on NBSCN, Telemundo

LIVERPOOL v MANCHESTER UNITED

The two most decorated teams in English soccer history simply do not like each other.  At Liverpool’s historic Anfield, the Reds’ beloved captain and star Steven Gerrard, aka “Stevie G”, will look to help his side earn three points against United in the Premier League for the first time since March 2011.

Sunday, September 1, 11:00 AM ET on NBSCN & mun2

ARSENAL v TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Arsenal host neighbors Tottenham at Emirates Stadium for the first edition of the season’s North London Derby and for a tough, early test at home for Arsenal.  The rivalry between the Gunners and Spurs dates to the early 1900s, and with Arsenal having finished directly above Tottenham in the table the last four seasons, Tottenham will be looking to make an early statement that their place in the standings belongs above Arsenal.

Saturday, September 14, 10:00 AM ET on TBD

HULL CITY v CARDIFF CITY

Hull and Cardiff, both promoted at the end of last season, meet early on in their Premier League campaigns, and as familiar foes, having faced each other the last three seasons in England’s second tier Championship, the Tigers and the Bluebirds will be eager to prove they belong in the league when the world is watching.

Sunday, September 22, 11:00 AM ET on NBCSN & Telemundo

MANCHESTER CITY v MANCHESTER UNITED

This season’s first installment of one of the league’s most riveting local rivalries, the Manchester Derby, kicks off at the Etihad on September 22.  The Manchester teams’ stadiums are just four miles apart, but their distaste for one another is huge.  City dramatically won the title on the final day of the season in 2012, leaving the Red Devils in second, while United were crowned champions in 2013 and City were runners-up.  The competitiveness and physical distance between these two sides always makes for an electric game, and this time both clubs will be playing under new managers.

Sunday, October 27, 9:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN & mun2

SUNDERLAND v NEWCASTLE UNITED

Sunderland’s Stadium of Light hosts the season’s first installment of the Tyne-Wear Derby, the name given to any match between Sunderland and Newcastle.  Just 12 miles separate the Magpies and the Black Cats, and last season, Newcastle edged out Sunderland to finish 16th, but both teams sat dangerously close to the relegation zone.  American forward Jozy Altidore, recently signed by Sunderland, will be a player to watch as he works to prove he’s a Premier League force.

Sunday, October 27, Noon ET on NBCSN & mun2

CHELSEA v MANCHESTER CITY

Last season’s second- and third-place finishers are sure to provide an exciting match — Chelsea finished just one win behind City last season.  By the end of October, the teams’ new managers and summer signings should be settled in to their roles, so this match should offer more of a glimpse as to these teams’ chances at the coveted trophy.

Sunday November 3, 11:00 AM ET on NBCSN & mun2

CARDIFF CITY v SWANSEA CITY

The South Wales Derby between Welsh sides Cardiff City and Swansea City is one of the most widely anticipated matches of the season.  With Cardiff’s promotion at the end of last season, the Bluebirds will be playing top-flight soccer for the first time in 51 years, and two Welsh teams will be playing in England’s top flight for the first time ever.

Saturday, November 9, 10:00 AM ET on Extra Time 1

LIVERPOOL v FULHAM

This match features two American owners as Liverpool and owners Fenway Sports Group host Fulham and owner Shahid Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars.  While the Red Sox and Jaguars will have nothing to do with this match, the American influence in the Premier League will be on display as Liverpool, who need a successful season more than ever, face the Cottagers.

Sunday, November 10, 11:10 AM ET on NBCSN & Telemundo

MANCHESTER UNITED v ARSENAL

Last season’s leading scorer Dutch star Robin van Persie, aka “RVP,” welcomes his former club to Manchester United’s Old Trafford.  RVP managed a goal in both matches last season against the Gunners, and with the 2012-13 Premier League title in his back pocket as well, his news-grabbing move from the Emirates last season has paid off.  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will look for some magic from his scoring threats Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, and Santi Cazorla.

Saturday, November 23, 7:45 AM ET on NBCSN & mun2

EVERTON v LIVERPOOL

The Merseyside Derby, the longest running top-flight rivalry in England (played at the highest level of English competition since 1962-63), features the Blues of Everton against the Reds of Liverpool.  The two clubs know each other well; their stadiums sit less than a mile apart, and they are playing for the 221st time.  Though Liverpool are the historically better side, Everton finished 6th, one spot ahead of Stevie G’s lads last season.  With both clubs scratching at the door to the top-5 and European play, the Merseyside Derby at Goodison Park holds much meaning for both sides.

Following is the NBCUniversal schedule for the first three months of the Premier League season:

(NOTE: TBD indicates that there will be one match in that time slot on NBCSN, in some cases one match on mun2, and remaining non-NBCSN games on Premier League Extra Time. Final channel assignments for those matches will be made in the coming weeks.)

Date Time (ET) Home Away Network
Sat., Aug. 17 7:45 a.m. Liverpool Stoke NBCSN
10 a.m. Arsenal Aston Villa NBCSN
10 a.m. Norwich Everton Extra Time
10 a.m. Sunderland Fulham Extra Time
10 a.m. West Ham Cardiff Extra Time
10 a.m. West Brom Southampton Extra Time
12:30 p.m. Swansea Man United NBC, mun2
Sun., Aug. 18 8:30 a.m. Crystal Palace Tottenham NBCSN
11 a.m. Chelsea Hull NBCSN
Mon., Aug. 19 3 p.m. Man City Newcastle NBCSN
***
Wed., Aug. 21 2:30 p.m. Chelsea Aston Villa NBCSN
***
Sat., Aug. 24 7:45 a.m. Fulham Arsenal NBCSN, mun2
10 a.m. Southampton Sunderland NBCSN
10 a.m. Everton West Brom Extra Time
10 a.m. Newcastle West Ham Extra Time
10 a.m. Hull Norwich Extra Time
10 a.m. Stoke Crystal Palace Extra Time
12:30 p.m. Aston Villa Liverpool NBC
Sun., Aug. 25 11 a.m. Tottenham Swansea NBCSN
11 a.m. Cardiff Man City Extra Time
Mon., Aug 26 3 p.m. Man United Chelsea NBCSN
***
Sat., Aug. 31 7:45 a.m. Man City Hull NBCSN
10 a.m. Cardiff City Everton NBCSN
10 a.m. Newcastle Fulham Extra Time
10 a.m. West Ham Stoke Extra Time
10 a.m. Norwich Southampton Extra Time
12:30 p.m. Crystal Palace Sunderland NBC
Sun., Sept. 1 8:30 a.m. Liverpool Man United NBCSN, Telemundo
8:30 a.m. West Brom Swansea Extra Time
11 a.m. Arsenal Tottenham NBCSN, mun2
***
Sat., Sept. 14 7:45 a.m. Man United Crystal Palace NBCSN, mun2
10 a.m. Sunderland Arsenal NBCSN
10 a.m. Stoke Man City Extra Time
10 a.m. Tottenham Norwich Extra Time
10 a.m. Aston Villa Newcastle Extra Time
10 a.m. Fulham West Brom Extra Time
10 a.m. Hull Cardiff Extra Time
12:30 p.m. Everton Chelsea NBC, mun2
Sun., Sept. 15 11 a.m. Southampton West Ham NBCSN
Mon., Sept. 16 3 p.m. Swansea Liverpool NBCSN
***
Sat., Sept. 21 7:45 a.m. Norwich Aston Villa NBCSN
10 a.m. Liverpool Southampton NBCSN
10 a.m. West Ham Everton Extra Time
10 a.m. West Brom Sunderland Extra Time
10 a.m. Newcastle Hull Extra Time
12:30 p.m. Chelsea Fulham NBCSN, mun2
Sun., Sept. 22 8:30 a.m. Arsenal Stoke CNBC, mun2
8:30 a.m. Crystal Palace Swansea Extra Time
11 a.m. Man City Man United NBCSN, Telemundo
***  11 a.m. Cardiff City Tottenham Extra Time
Sat., Sept. 28 7:45 a.m. Tottenham Chelsea NBCSN, mun2
10 a.m. Aston Villa Man City NBCSN
10 a.m. Man United West Brom Extra Time
10 a.m. Fulham Cardiff Extra Time
10 a.m. Hull West Ham Extra Time
10 a.m. Southampton Crystal Palace Extra Time
12:30 p.m. Swansea Arsenal NBC
Sun., Sept. 29 8:30 a.m. Stoke Norwich NBCSN
11 a.m. Sunderland Liverpool NBCSN
Mon., Sept. 30 3 p.m. Everton Newcastle NBCSN
***
Sat., Oct. 5 7:45 a.m. Man City Everton NBCSN, mun2
10 a.m. Liverpool Crystal Palace NBCSN
10 a.m. Hull Aston Villa Extra Time
10 a.m. Cardiff Newcastle Extra Time
10 a.m. Fulham Stoke Extra Time
12:30 p.m. Sunderland Man United NBCSN, mun2
 Sun., Oct. 6 8:30 a.m. Norwich Chelsea NBCSN
8:30 am Southampton Swansea City Extra Time
11 a.m. West Brom Arsenal NBCSN
*** 11 a.m. Tottenham West Ham Extra Time
Sat., Oct. 19 7:45 a.m. Newcastle Liverpool NBCSN
10 a.m. Man United Southampton NBCSN
10 a.m. Arsenal Norwich Extra Time 1
10 a.m. Chelsea Cardiff Extra Time 2
10 a.m. Everton Hull Extra Time 3
10 a.m. Stoke City West Brom Extra Time 4
10 a.m. Swansea Sunderland Extra Time 5
12:30 p.m. West Ham Man City NBC
Sun., Oct. 20 11 a.m. Aston Villa Tottenham NBCSN, mun2
Mon., Oct. 21 3 p.m. Crystal Palace Fulham NBCSN
***
Sat., Oct. 26 7:45 a.m. Crystal Palace Arsenal NBCSN
10 a.m. Man United Stoke NBCSN
10 a.m. Liverpool West Brom Extra Time 1
10 a.m. Aston Villa Everton Extra Time 2
10 a.m. Norwich Cardiff Extra Time 3
12:30 p.m. Southampton Fulham NBCSN
  Sun., Oct. 27 9:30 a.m. Sunderland Newcastle NBCSN
Noon Chelsea Man City NBCSN, mun2
Noon Tottenham Hull Extra Time 1
Noon Swansea West Ham Extra Time 2
***
Sat., Nov. 2 8:45 a.m. Newcastle Chelsea NBCSN
11 a.m. Fulham Man United NBCSN
11 a.m. Man City Norwich Extra Time 1
11 a.m. Hull Sunderland Extra Time 4
11 a.m. West Ham Aston Villa Extra Time 3
11 a.m. Stoke Southampton Extra Time 2
11 a.m. West Brom Crystal Palace Extra Time 5
1:30 Arsenal Liverpool NBC, mun2
Sun., Nov. 3 8:30 a.m. Everton Tottenham CNBC
11 a.m. Cardiff Swansea NBCSN
***
Sat., Nov. 9 10 a.m. Chelsea West Brom NBCSN
10 a.m. Liverpool Fulham Extra Time 1
10 a.m. Southampton Hull Extra Time 2
10 a.m. Crystal Palace Everton Extra Time 3
10 a.m. Aston Villa Cardiff City Extra Time 4
10 a.m. Chelsea West Brom TBD
12:30 p.m. Norwich West Ham NBC
Sun., Nov. 10 7 a.m. Tottenham Newcastle NBCSN
9:05 a.m. Sunderland Man City NBCSN
11:10 a.m. Man United Arsenal NBCSN, Telemundo
11:10 a.m. Swansea City Stoke City Extra Time 1
***
Sat., Nov. 23 7:45 a.m. Everton Liverpool NBCSN, mun2
10 a.m. Arsenal Southampton NBCSN
10 a.m. Fulham Swansea Extra Time 2
10 a.m. Stoke Sunderland Extra Time 3
10 a.m. Newcastle Norwich Extra Time 1
10 a.m. Hull Crystal Palace Extra Time 4
12:30 West Ham Chelsea NBC, mun2
Sun., Nov. 24 8:30 a.m. Man City Tottenham NBCSN
11 a.m. Cardiff Man United NBCSN, mun2
Mon., Nov. 25 3 p.m. West Brom Aston Villa NBCSN
***
Sat., Nov. 30 7:45 a.m. Tottenham Man United NBCSN, Telemundo
10 a.m. Man City Swansea TBD
10 a.m. Cardiff Arsenal TBD
10 a.m. Everton Stoke TBD
10 a.m. Aston Villa Sunderland TBD
10 a.m. West Ham Fulham TBD
10 a.m. Norwich Crystal Palace TBD
12:30 p.m. Newcastle West Brom NBC
Sun., Dec. 1 8:30 a.m. Hull Liverpool NBCSN
11 a.m. Chelsea Southampton NBCSN

How to stop Alexis? “Padlock, tie him up,” says Sevilla boss

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“Well, maybe we can lock him up with a padlock or tie him up with rope.”

Vincenzo Montella has mixed it up with Alexis Sanchez in the past, and he’s not relishing the need to stop him again without using non-traditional means.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Barca recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

The Sevilla boss, 43, said he “remembered well” the Manchester United star from the Chilean’s playing time at Udinese,.

“He has improved his style a lot during his career and I think he can be a really good player in transition,” Montella said. “I think they have really good speed in attack.”

That padlock joke wasn’t the only quality quip from Montella, who said of Paul Pogba:

“He is a complete player. I hope he doesn’t play.”

Sevilla hosts United at 2:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium.

Conte gets tactics spot on but Messi has last laugh

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LONDON — Before the game Antonio Conte‘s tactics were the talk of the press room at Stamford Bridge, plus pubs and television studios around the world.

After the game his decision to play Eden Hazard in a false nine position, flanked by Willian and Pedro, and leave out his two star center forwards, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, was lauded. This was a reminder of the man who led Chelsea to Premier League glory last season and also a reminder of Chelsea’s successful past against the Catalan giants as they’re now unbeaten in their last eight UCL encounters as the clash of styles continues.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned | Recap

Conte is under pressure with just five wins in his last 13 games in all competitions, but this was a tactical masterclass from the Italian coach as his side totally bought into his plan and without a mistake from Andreas Christensen late on, it would have been an archetypal Italian defensive display leading to a 1-0 win to take to the Nou Camp.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Conte believed his players were incredibly unlucky to not win the game as Willian struck the post twice in the first half and they threatened multiple times on the counter.

“We were very close to playing the perfect game. One mistake and we know very well when you make a mistake against Barcelona and players like Messi, Suarez and Iniesta you pay. It is a pity because tonight, at the end of the game, we are disappointed for the final result,” Conte said. “We hit the post twice with Willian. There is a bit of disappointment but I think that this game must give us confidence to trust that in the second leg that qualification is open. It won’t be easy. We must be realistic. We are talking about Barcelona. Tonight we showed that if we are ready to work very hard together defensively, but at the same time you continue to have the right feeling when you win the ball to create chances to score, we can try to do something incredible at the Nou Camp.”

The one wrench in Conte’s plan was always going to be one incredible player: Lionel Messi.

Without a goal in eight games (730 minutes in total) against Chelsea, the five-time World Player of the Year stroked home a killer away goal 15 minutes from time to swing the tie back into Barcelona’s favor after Conte’s masterclass. Messi, 30, once again arrived at the pivotal moment for the La Liga leaders and the Argentine star sprung into life as Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta made the most of Christensen’s mistake.

Messi’s presence on the ball sparked nervousness within the Chelsea defense but it looked like he would leave empty hand once again until he was gifted a chance to silence the doubters.

Barcelona had 73 percent of possession on Tuesday and attempted 887 passes to Chelsea’s 325. They looked comfortable in a cauldron of noise at Stamford Bridge and even though they were vulnerable on the counter, they never looked too flustered but only had two real chances via Paulinho in the first half and Suarez in the second.

Despite following the blueprint to get a result against Barcelona almost to a tee, Cesc Fabregas believes the Blues will have to be more expansive at the Nou Camp in the second leg to get through to the quarterfinals.

“We have showed that we can compete and we will need another excellent performance at the Nou Camp to go through,” Fabregas told BT Sport. “You have to have a lot of personality to play against this team who has 70 percent of the ball. We have to go there to attack and score because 90 minutes defending at the Nou Camp is an eternity, it is a suicide mission. We have to play our game.”

As for Barcelona’s manager Ernesto Valverde, he admitted that he was a happy man to escape West London with a draw but urged his side to respect Chelsea’s style of play in the second leg.

“It has been a clash of styles this game, two different teams,” Ernesto said. “We tried to control the game, had a lot of possession and got close to the area. We were just lacking a little bit of extra quality in the final third. They defended very well. The good thing is we managed to get an error and get a goal out of them. We will go back to the Camp Nou happy.”

Conte was happy his players followed his gameplan and believes they must believe they can deliver killers blows on the break in Barcelona in two weeks time with Willian, Pedro and Hazard key to the plan.

“I must be pleased because the players did a great effort and they followed the plan we prepared,” Conte said. “In 15 days we must be ready to prepare for another game against Barcelona. We must be prepared to suffer together but in the moment you are suffering, you must know that the moment you are in possession you can create a chance to score.”

Chelsea need at least one goal to go through or to take the game to extra time, but given their spirited display at Stamford Bridge there’s renewed hope that Conte can mastermind another defensive masterplan to get them into the last eight for the first time since 2014.

Fabregas: Chelsea has to avoid “suicide mission,” push Barca in 2nd leg

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Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas has seen Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi work plenty of magic in his career, and he preferred it much better when he was on their side for such brilliance.

[ MORE: Recap | JPW’s 3 things ]

But the Blues’ midfielder will feel as good as a player can following a tactical masterclass from Antonio Conte was betrayed by one miscue in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw versus Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

Barca was held, arguably, without a true chance before Andreas Christensen‘s miscue helped Iniesta cue Messi up for a second half equalizer.

And Fabregas, who was La Liga and the Copa del Rey with Barca, is already thinking about the second leg at the Camp Nou. From the BBC:

“It is such a shame really. I thought we were very good, we executed the game plan really well, we were compact, solid, played as a team and created lots of chances – Willian could have had a hatrick – but we go home sad because a fantastic performance is not a fantastic result.

“You have to have a lot of personality to play against this team who has 70% of the ball. We have to go there to attack and score because 90 minutes defending at the Nou Camp is an eternity, it is a suicide mission. We have to play our game.”

True story, though one easier planned than executed against Barca. Conte said he lost a lot of sleep coming up with his tactics for the first leg, and he’s going to have to put on some coffee a few times before March 14.

Three things learned: Chelsea v. Barcelona

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LONDON — It was honors even at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday as Chelsea and Barcelona battled to a 1-1 draw in an intriguing UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg.

The familiar foes (this was their 13th meeting in the Champions League) played out a tight game with Willian hitting both posts in the first half with sumptuous curling efforts before scoring the opener in the second half, while Lionel Messi equalized late on to grab a crucial away goal.

Chelsea are unbeaten in eight Champions League games against Barcelona, who have won just once in their seven trips to Stamford Bridge, yet Barca are among just four teams who remain unbeaten in the UCL this season and they’ll fancy their chances of getting by the Blues at the Nou Camp on Mar. 14 in the return leg with a vital away goal in the bag.

Here’s what we learned from another massive European night between the clubs in west London, as Chelsea need a score draw 2-2 or higher or a win at the Nou Camp to advance to the UCL last eight for the first time since 2013-14.


WILLIAN, HAZARD DAZZLE

This wasn’t the Messi and Luis Suarez show. Chelsea’s dynamic duo of Eden Hazard, and particularly Willian, took charge early on Tuesday.

Hazard has yet to really carry Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League and it was his job to take the game to Barcelona in the first leg. He did the best he could, and although he had little support, he caused problems for Barca on the break.

With Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata both left on the bench from the start, Hazard was asked to play a role he has rarely flourished in. His talents are much better suited to playing in a No.10 role floating off a front man or cutting in from the left flank.

Hazard, 27, flashed an effort over the bar early on and wriggled free of Barca’s defense on a few occasions as he slammed another effort over the bar. Then Willian took over.

The Brazilian continued his fine form after two goals last time out against Hull City and he smashed each post with trademark curling efforts from outside the box. Antonio Conte stood with his head in his hands on the sidelines, but deep down he knew he’d got his tactics spot on.

It was a case of third time lucky for Willian as in the second half he hit a low shot into the bottom corner to put Chelsea ahead. Chelsea’s dynamic attacking duo of Hazard and Willian had delivered.

Suarez’s drought in front of goal was now his worst in the Champions League, while Messi’s peculiar lack of potency against Chelsea looked to be continuing…


MESSI’S CHELSEA CURSE IS OVER

A moment in the first half acted as a precursor to Messi’s magic. It was a warning for Chelsea that they didn’t heed.

The Argentine magician is a joy to watch in the flesh and the way he simply glided past N'Golo Kante and Antonio Rudiger summed up that his gearbox us more than capable of cranking up five gears at a time with minimal fuss.

Yet Messi didn’t get too many chances to click through the gears as Barcelona’s pragmatic approach saw both he and Suarez left isolated for much of the game as the La Liga leaders struggled to get going until late on. He only needed one chance to grab the all-important away goal.

Barca’s defensive record was the best in the Champions League this season going into this game and although Ernesto Valverde has added steel to their swashbuckling style, too often they lacked cutting edge in the final third.

Messi, now 30, may not come up against Premier League clubs many more times in his career but he provided a dagger of an away goal 15 minutes from time to end the talk of him struggling against Chelsea.

It took over 730 minutes, but Messi finally has a goal against Chelsea and it was a hugely important strike.


CONTE GETS TACTICS SPOT ON

The decision to not start with Alvaro Morata or Olivier Giroud up top was a bold one from Conte and it paid off brilliantly.

Some may call it boring. Some may criticize him for not playing with a recognized striker. Yet Conte’s tactical masterplan to have Hazard, Pedro and Willian charging at the center of Barca’s defense whenever they could worked to perfection.

Ahead of this clash Conte admitted he didn’t sleep well because he was concocting a plan to stop Messi and Co.

“I must be honest… it was a bit difficult to sleep well,” Conte said. “When you have to play this type of game, you have to prepare. You have to prepare everything. You have to prepare big things, but the smaller details too.”

He got the small details spot on as the Blues retreated into a 5-4-1 formation at times with Conte screaming at Thibaut Courtois for lumping the ball long to Hazard and Willian. He wanted the Blues to keep the ball, give it to Cesc Fabregas and have Hazard, Pedro and Willian running behind Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti.

They launched several counters in the second half but could only finish one of them off, while one mistake from Andreas Christensen cost them dear.

That said, Chelsea will use this same gameplan in the second leg at the Nou Camp with confidence that they can at least take the game to extra time.

Even though Conte has won just five of his last 13 games in all competitions, this display will fill his team with confidence they can get the job done on the road in Barcelona.