Messi breaks the jinx against Chealsea, Man U struggle…the good, the bad and ugly of this week’s UEFA Champions League fixtures

By Israel Igiri

                                                                            Messi breaks goal hoodoo against Blues

Lionel Messi broke his goal duck against Chelsea to deny Antonio Conte’s side a crucial first leg lead over Barcelona in their Champions League showdown.

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The Argentina international had not scored in his previous eight games against the Blues, but he put that anomaly right with 15 minutes left to secure a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

It was a game which saw a brilliant display from Chelsea especially Willian who put the west London side ahead in the 62nd minute having been denied twice by the woodwork in the first half. The Brazilian curled a shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box to give Chelsea the lead.

The goal look as though it might be decisive on the night as Barcelona despite controlling the game, struggled to find a way through Chelsea’s well-organized defence. Up until the 75th minute, the Blues seemed to have silenced their opponents and have had a perfect game, but Barca seized upon Christensen’s suicidal pass across goal which left Cesar Azpilicueta scrambling in vain and allowed Andres Iniesta to cut the ball to Messi who made no mistake with his number 30 attempt on goal, having been denied in his last 29 efforts on goal against the Blues.

As it stands, Conte’s men will have a lot of work to do if they are knockout out Barcelona, who have progressed 36 out of the 38 times they did not lose the away first first leg in UEFA competitions.

With the crucial away goal for Barcelona, it now looks very difficult but not impossible for the Blues to defeat the Catalans in the second leg come March 14. However, it will take a superior performance for them to prevent Messi and co from making the last eight for the 11th consecutive season right at the Nou Camp- a ground where Ernesto Valverde’s side have lost just once in their last 51 games in Europe.            

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  Muller stars as Bayern thrash 10-man Besiktas

Thomas Muller inspired Bayern Munich to a commanding lead in their Champions League round of 16 tie with Besiktas, as they took full advantage of Domagoj Vida’s red card to run out comprehensive 5-0 winners in the first leg at the Allianz Arena.

The Turkish champions who were playing their first ever knockout match in the Champions League started on a bright note as they pressed the Bavarians high and created chances to go ahead in the game, but their positive start was wrecked after just 16 minutes when Vida was sent off for a mistimed tackle as the last man.

With four minutes to go in half time, Thomas Muller scored his first of the night with a simple touch from close range.

The Die Roten’s dominance in the second half was reflected with goals in the second half as they racked up 35 shots from which goals from Kingsley Coman, Muller and a Robert Lewandowski brace downed Besiktas who gave a good account of themselves before tiring due to Bayern’s numerical advantage, strength and quality.

With the victory, Jupp Heynckes’s men have all but guaranteed their place in the last eight of the Champions League. It will take a miracle for the Turkish side to go through in three weeks’ time when both teams meet again in Istanbul.

                        Stunning Fred’s free-kick gives Shakhtar Slim Advantage 

Fred’s wonderful free-kick earned Shakhtar Donetsk a 2-1 win over AS Roma in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie on Wednesday night.

His 25-yard free-kick rocketed in off the bar to give the Ukrainian champions a lead to take back to Stadio Olimpico in three weeks’ time, and gave them a fourth win from five attempts against the Giallorossi in the competition.

The visitors had looked the more potent side before the break and took the lead when Edin Dzeko’s brilliant pass played Cengiz Under through as he fired in his fifth goal in four games.

Shakhtar’s first-half attacking efforts had amounted to little, but they hit back in less than six minutes into the second half, as Facundo Ferreyra latched onto Yaroslav Rakitskiy’s hopeful punt, nutmeg Manolas before calmly finishing beyond Alisson.

As the game advanced, Marlos and Taison almost gave the hosts the lead but were denied by the brilliant Alisson who pulled off spectacular saves.

However, with 19 minutes to go, a powerful free-kick from Fred fizzed over the wall and into the net. Alisson certainly had no answer this time around.

Shakhtar who almost extended their lead at the death, only for Ferreyra’s effort from six yards to be blocked by Alisson and Manolas on the line, now takes a slim advantage to the Italian capital on March 13 as they will hope to eliminate their Italian opponents for the fifth time in the Champions League.

It will definitely not be an easy task for the team from Donetsk to go through to the last eight for the first time in eight seasons considering the fact that Eusebio Di Francesco’s men have been impressive at home in this season’s competition, keeping clean sheets in each of their group games. The second leg is certainly going to be the decider as it is still anybody’s game to take.

              De Gea rescues struggling United

A superb save from David De Gea ensured Manchester United left the Ramon Pizjuan with a goalless draw to keep their Champions League hopes alive.

The Red Devils survived plenty of pressure to claim a 0-0 draw against an organized Sevilla side in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie, owing praise to an incredible first half save at the end of first half. The United shot stopper was in great form as he denied Luis Muriel with a point-blank reaction stop just before half-time.

Vicenzo Montella’s side who controlled proceedings for much of the game were denied on several occasions by the heroics of De Gea. The Spain international denied both Gabriel Marcado and Muriel late on with great saves late on to deny the Spanish side from scoring at home for the first time in 19 games, leaving the tie open ahead of the second leg at Old Trafford on March 13.

The result means Sevilla can qualify for the quarter-finals for the first time ever if they seal at least, a 1-1 draw in the second leg. However, Jose Mourinho’s men will be confident of progressing to the last eight for the first time in four years despite failing to score an away goal in Spain.

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