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Dublin: 5 °C Monday 17 December, 2018

Chelsea close to a perfect game against Barcelona - Conte

Lionel Messi’s equaliser gave his side a narrow advantage in a Champions League last-16 tie.

Chelsea's Antonio Conte.
Chelsea's Antonio Conte.

ANTONIO CONTE FELT Chelsea were close to delivering a “perfect” game against Barcelona in the Champions League before Lionel Messi’s leveller salvaged a 1-1 draw for the Catalan giants.

Willian, denied twice by the woodwork in the first half, gave the Blues the lead after 62 minutes with a pinpoint rifled drive from the edge of the penalty area.

Chelsea looked set to hold firm against Barca and take a one-goal lead to March 14′s return game at Camp Nou, only to shoot themselves in the foot.

Andreas Christensen gave up possession with a sloppy pass deep in his own half, Andres Iniesta feeding Messi to score his first goal in nine appearances against Chelsea.

Conte was left frustrated by Chelsea’s failure to close out the victory, Messi striking with 15 minutes to go from his only shot of the game, yet the Italian was delighted with the way his team delivered a defensive masterclass – barring one costly slip.

“I think we were very close, very close to a perfect game,” Conte told BT Sport. ”I think only one mistake and when you make a mistake against Barcelona, players like Messi, [Luis] Suarez, Iniesta, you have to pay.

“It’s a pity, I’m very proud of my players for the game, they followed our plan. It’s a pity. It’s a pity because also I think tonight we were a bit unlucky.

I think when we have to have a plan for this game, respect the characteristics of the opponent and understand the best way to face them. Our plan was really really good and the effort was great, it’s a pity because we are talking about 1-1 and maybe we deserved more tonight.”

Barcelona’s away goal gives them the edge ahead of next month’s second leg but Conte believes Chelsea can cause an upset when their rivalry renews with the Catalans at Camp Nou.

“This team is very strong, a fantastic team, but I think the result means the tie is open,” Conte said.

“It will be difficult, it’s not simple to play away against them, but our performance will give us confidence to try and do something.”

Barcelona recorded over 72% possession at Stamford Bridge but captain Iniesta is not expecting the second leg to follow a similar pattern.

“The match has had everything. A match of champions,” the veteran midfielder told TV3. ”Very intense in front of a great team. We knew it was going to be difficult.

At home I think the game will be different . Playing at home with our people, we know the field better and the game will be different. But come on, we know it will be complicated because they will play everything.

“They are one of the best teams in Europe, they have great players and this is the Champions League, everything is complicated here.”

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