Barcelona’s Lionel Messi breaks between Cesar Azpilicueta (left) and Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea in match action at Stamford Bridge in London. (EPA photo)
LONDON: Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi finally opened his account against Chelsea with a 75th-minute equaliser to earn his side a 1-1 draw in a fascinating Champions League last 16, first leg duel at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.
Willian’s superb 62nd-minute effort looked like giving Chelsea a precious advantage for the second leg in Spain but they undid all their good work by handing Messi an equaliser.
In the night’s other match, Thomas Mueller and Robert Lewandowski netted twice as Bayern Munich thrashed 10-man Besiktas 5-0. (Details below)
In London, the Argentine maestro, teed up by Andres Iniesta after some sloppy play by the hosts, struck a low shot past keeper Thibaut Courtois for his first goal in nine attempts against Chelsea.
As expected, Barca dominated possession but Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side were unfortunate not to end with a victory after Willian was twice denied by the woodwork before halftime.
The second leg is on March 14 at the Nou Camp.
One of Europe’s fiercest rivalries had been dormant for six years — since Chelsea’s shock semi-final victory in 2012.
But the renewal of hostilities did not disappoint in a gripping game of cat and mouse in west London.
For all Barcelona’s often suffocating possession it was Chelsea who walked in at halftime feeling hard done by.
The hosts spent most of the opening period diligently shutting doors at the back as Messi and Iniesta probed for openings in Chelsea’s blue wall.
But when the home side did get the ball they were clinical.
In the 34th minute Paulinho gave the ball away cheaply and as Chelsea worked the ball to Willian, he shuffled to his right and sent a curling right-footer thudding against the post.
Willian could not believe his bad luck again shortly before halftime when Barca again invited pressure and this time his left-foot effort smacked the outside of the other post.
On both occasions Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was a mere spectator.
Barcelona had their moments, with Messi, as usual, their chief architect, delivering one cross on a plate for Paulinho who headed wide in front of goal.
In the Bayern-Besiktas match, Mueller and Lewandowski netted twice in the 5-0 victory over 10-man Besiktas.
Disaster struck for Besiktas after just 16 minutes when Domagoj Vida was sent off bringing down Lewandowski when the Poland striker was through on goal.
Besiktas fought gainly and held firm until just before half-time when Bayern captain Mueller scored from close range.
The floodgates opened after the break at Munich’s Allianz Arena as Kingsley Coman struck before Mueller poached his second.
Bayern claimed their fourth on 79 minutes when Lewandowski pounced on a rebound after defender Mats Hummels’s long-range shot was parried.
Mueller then weighed in with an assist to set up Lewandowski for the fifth just before the final whistle.
Besiktas, making their debut in the knock-out stages of the Champions League, face a near impossible task in the return leg in Istanbul on March 14 if they are to prolong their European adventure.
Bayern made a bright start when Coman’s curling shot forced Besiktas goalkeeper Fabri into a save on nine minutes, Joshua Kimmich’s free-kick then headed wide by Arturo Vidal.
But Besiktas were the architects of their own downfall as a poor pass from skipper Atiba Hutchinson was snapped up by Lewandowski, who was sent tumbling by last man Vida as he closed in on goal.