Thibaut Courtois

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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 Hazard found him and he hit a low shot into the bottom corner to put Chelsea ahead after 62 minutes. 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.

Chelsea 3-0 West Brom: Giroud, Hazard link downs Baggies

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  • Eden Hazard brace earns Chelsea the win
  • Giroud bags assist on full debut
  • Blues jump back into Champions League place

Olivier Giroud was brought in to score goals, but on his full Chelsea debut it was his strong hold-up play that earned the Blues all three points.

The Frenchman started and set up Eden Hazard for the opening goal after a half-hour, warding off a defender and letting his new teammate slice through the back line to score as Chelsea topped West Brom at Stamford Bridge 3-0.

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West Brom was forced into an early change as January signing Daniel Sturridge limped off injured after just four minutes following, a familiar sight for Premier League fans. On came Jay Rodriguez, who had the best chance of the first half-hour after Victor Moses accidentally played him through, but he fired wide one-on-one with Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois.

The opening 30 minutes saw Chelsea enjoy decent control but West Brom poked and prodded. However the Blues opened the scoring through Hazard, who took a strong layoff from Olivier Giroud on a one-two play, leaving the Belgian clean through after the nifty touch.

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After halftime, the game ground to a halt, and with an hour gone Antonio Conte withdrew Giroud in favor of Alvaro Morata who returned from his injury layoff. The change sparked the Blues, and they scored just three minutes later. Victor Moses found Cesc Fabregas at the top of the box, and the Spaniard looked to play the ball back to Moses, and while his rabona pass clipped a defender, it still found Moses streaking on net and the Nigerian finished cooly for a 2-0 lead.

With the Blues firmly in control, they tacked on a third with 20 minutes to go. A moment of brilliance saw Hazard cut inside to beat Jonny Evans, and fired on net, crashing the shot home inside the near post for a 3-0 lead and the game decided.

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The win gets Chelsea back to winning ways after a small two-game losing streak in Premier League play, pushing them above Tottenham into fourth position and a single point back of Liverpool in third. For West Brom, it’s their third straight defeat in league play and leaves them bottom of the table, without a win since defeating Brighton 2-0 on January 13.

Chelsea’s Courtois talking new deal, but “heart is in Madrid”

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Thibaut Courtois isn’t quite saying, “Come and get me, Real,” but it is easy for an interested party to connect the dots.

[ PL PLAYBACK: What’s wrong with Chelsea? ]

The Chelsea goalkeeper, 25, gave an interview to Sport/Foot Magazine in Belgium, and said he’s talking with the Blues on a contract extension.

Good news for the Blues, right? Kinda.

Those quotes came after the star keeper basically talked up Madrid for a while, discussing how much he misses his kids — who live with his ex-girlfriend — how he became an adult there, and how it’s essentially just like Heaven. From Sky Sports:

“If they want me, they have to contact Chelsea. We’ll see. But they have not done that. What is certain is that one day I will return to Madrid. I love Spain, I love the city, I spent three wonderful years there [with Atletico Madrid]. It is there that I became an adult.

“If Real are really interested, my personal situation could influence things. The family aspect is priceless. But I repeat to you that, for the moment, I’m busy talking to Chelsea to extend.”

Manchester United supporters are likely cheering this story along, and sending Madrid postcards to Courtois’ attention at Stamford Bridge; If Real landed Courtois, then the David De Gea talk would maybe, maybe, take a transfer window-long break.

Watford 4-1 Chelsea: Bakayoko’s early red dooms woeful Blues

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  • Bakayoko sent off 30 minutes in for 2nd yellow
  • Troy Deeney scored from the spot
  • Chelsea conceded three times in the final 10 minutes

Life comes at you fast.

Midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko was sent off after a half-hour, and while it appeared Eden Hazard had rescued the Blues after a mostly woeful performance, Chelsea ultimately could see it over the line, conceding three times in the final nine minutes plus stoppage time to fall to Watford for the first time since 1999.

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Bakayoko, who has struggled mightily since moving to Chelsea from Monaco over the summer, had a horror first-half, and it only lasted just over a half-hour before he was sent to the showers. The 23-year-old was booked 25 minutes in for a foul on Etienne Capoue, and just five minutes later a heavy touch got away from him. In his reckless effort to win the ball back, he stepped over the ball and caught Richarlison with a nasty stomp, earning a deserved second booking and reducing Chelsea to 10 men before halftime.

Antonio Conte was forced to sacrifice Willian to shore up the midfield in Bakayoko’s absence, bringing on Cesc Fabregas four minutes after the red card. Watford was still able to possess the ball with more ferocity, and they earned the game’s opening goal as debutant Gerard Deulofeu was fouled in the box by Thibaut Courtois. Troy Deeney scored from the spot, and the Hornets went ahead just before the halftime break.

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Chelsea showed more intent in the second half despite their disadvantage, but it was Watford that had the best chance before the hour mark, with Deulofeu popping up in a dangerous spot again off a corner to fire a shot from outside the top of the box that just skipped wide right.

Conte brought Olivier Giroud on for his Blues debut, but only after Pedro was withdrawn after being injured in the 63rd minute, adding to the significant Chelsea injury list with Alvaro Morata and Andreas Christensen already struggling with fitness. Moments later, Abdoulaye Doucore forced an acrobatic save by Courtois as he rifled on net on the break.

Cesc Fabregas had a big chance for Chelsea to pull level with 10 minutes to go after great work from Eden hazard, but his shot was poorly placed directly at Watford goalkeeper Orestis Karnezis. Chelsea continued to put Watford under pressure, and the equalizer came a minute later. Chelsea superstar Hazard rescued his team as he undressed Adrian Mariappa, cutting inside and slightly backwards before rifling a stunning curler into the far top corner for the equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The game began to open up, and Watford went right back in front. Darryl Janmaat put the Hornets ahead again, carving up the Chelsea defense on a give-and-go with substitute Roberto Pereyra, and then Deulofeu sliced and diced on the break to put the game away. Pereyra piled on the Blues misery with a fourth a minute into injury time.

The loss, Chelsea’s second in a row, leaves them vulnerable in fourth just a point ahead of fifth-placed Tottenham. The Blues have won just once in the last five matches. Watford, meanwhile, remains in 11th but pulled within just one of 10th placed Everton.

Chelsea 0-3 Bournemouth: Cherries bury Blues

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  • Chelsea drops fourth
  • Blues outshoot Cherries 21-11
  • Wilson leads the way

Callum Wilson and Junior Stanislas each had a goal and an assist as Bournemouth posted an emphatic 3-0 win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Ex-Chelsea man Nathan Ake scored Bournemouth’s other goal as the Cherries built the three-goal advantage by the 67th minute.

Chelsea is now behind Liverpool, both with 50 points. Bournemouth rises 10th with 28 points.

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Chelsea’s start was very slow, with no shots to speak of while Bournemouth was able to manufacture some action through Ryan Fraser.

Bournemouth was happy to hit the break nil-nil, and happier when Wilson put the Cherries in front of the heavily-favored Blues on a 1-2 with Jordon Ibe.

The Cherries made it 2-0 in sensational fashion, with Stanislas flicking beyond the reach of Thibaut Courtois after a pass from Callum Wilson.

Then Ake scored against his old club in a manner which begged whether Roman Abramovich had an itchy trigger finger when it comes to his manager. Stanislas sent the ball into the Dutch defender.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

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