Every reason for Blues to be optimistic at Camp Nou - it need not get Messi

February 21, 2018

Lionel Messi after the 1-1 Champions League draw at Stamford Bridge last night 
 

Chelsea will hope the club’s DNA will be enough to summon the spirit of 2012 when they return to the Nou Camp and the scene of one of their greatest nights in European football.

There will be no ‘muscle memory’ to draw upon among the players when they travel to Barcelona for the second leg of their last 16 tie next month.

Only Gary Cahill remains from the side which drew an epic semi-final 2-2 after an astonishing battle against the odds with 10 men following John Terry’s red card.

Not even the current Chelsea captain can be expected to start, after he was surprisingly left out of Tuesday night’s first leg at the Bridge, with Antonio Rudiger given the nod.

As good as Chelsea were, they were not quite able to chisel out the 1-0 win their tactical discipline deserved – one mistake proving costly in a 1-1 draw.

Now, in order to reach the quarter-finals, it will need another night of immaculate collective will and concentration, comparable to that monumental effort six years ago, and probably one or two of those special moments, such as that wonder strike from Ramires.

This time, the Blues will also face the pressure of knowing they have to score an away goal to stay in the tie. Last time out, they were protecting a 1-0 lead given to them by Didier Drogba (who else).

If there is another game Chelsea might recall as a means of inspiration, it should be their 2004 quarter final victory over Arsenal. There they also had only a 1-1 draw banked after a first leg at the Bridge.

Their position looked even bleaker when they fell behind in the second leg, but just one strike from Frank Lampard changed the dynamics.

The Gunners began to fret about conceding a second away goal and when Wayne Bridge plundered that famous goal, there was no way back, even for the great 'Invincibles' team of that year.

“We were very close to playing the perfect game,” Chelsea boss Antonio Conte said after this week’s tense 1-1 draw.

“I think we paid dearly for one mistake. But as you know very well against this opponent, if you make a mistake, you pay.

“We are disappointed with the final result, but at the same time, this game must give us a lot of confidence to trust that, in the second leg, qualification is open.

“It won’t be easy and we must be realistic, because we are talking about Barcelona, but we can try to do something incredible at the Nou Camp.”

Barcelona it may be, but the Blaugrana do seem to inspire something in the Blues. They have now not lost any of their past eight encounters with the Catalans and managed a draw on each of their last four visits there. It would be foolhardy to write off their chances.

What Tuesday night did prove is that in spite of the customary obscene possession count in favour of Ernesto Valverde’s side, they failed to break down Chelsea’s superb defence, with both Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez kept mostly at arm’s length. Only a wayward defensive pass from Andreas Christensen late on ushered a path to goal for the increasingly frustrated visitors.

As well as finding he net with a smart finish, Willian twice flashed beautiful drives against Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s posts, and for all their supposed inferiority in terms of keeping the ball, the Blues were more menacing in front of goal. There is every reason for Conte’s men to travel for the second leg with a heavy slice of optimism.

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