All-action N'Golo Kante, wizardous Willian lead valiant Chelsea in defeat
Chelsea saw their Champions League campaign ended by a 3-0 defeat at Barcelona, though the scoreline did not tell half the story.
The visitors got off to the worst possible start when some pinball in the penalty area fell to Lionel Messi who squirted the ball through Thibaut Courtois' legs from a narrow angle. Chelsea reacted impressively, surging forward with intent and carving through Barcelona's midfield. Unfortunately, they were stung by one such foray when poor control from Cesc Fabregas let in Messi whose pass allowed Ousmane Dembele to fire home.
Chelsea flew out of the blocks after half-time, dominating possession and camping in Barcelona's half. The key moment came on 49 minutes when the referee failed to spot Gerard Pique hauling down Marcos Alonso in the area that should have earned a penalty and a red card. Instead, Chelsea's wastefulness in front of goal was punished by a second Messi goal on 63 minutes and the tie was effectively over.
Despite the result, this was a display to warm the hearts of Chelsea supporters. Apart from a timid opening two minutes, they took the game to their vaunted opponents and were the better side on the ball if not in front of goal. Had Barcelona not had Messi in their midst, the outcome might have been very different.
Individual errors ultimately cost Chelsea the tie. Courtois made three mistakes, two of which ended in goals. Fabregas was also severely punished for a momentary infraction. Even so, more ruthlessness in the final third might still have been enough to see Chelsea through.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- The stirring performance was a world away from the inhibition on show in the 1-0 defeat at Manchester City and the manager must take great credit for the upturn. Unfortunately he made the wrong choice at centre-forward where Olivier Giroud struggled badly. In a game that required deft touch, sharp movement and a turn of pace, it was odd that the Frenchman got the nod ahead of Alvaro Morata.
Player ratings (1-10, 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Thibaut Courtois, 4 -- Picked a bad day for his worst performance of the season. Should have kept out the first goal and done better for the third while somehow getting out of jail when he passed the ball straight to Luis Suarez on the edge of the penalty area.
DF Cesar Azpilicueta, 7 -- Typically solid from the captain who barely gave his opponents an inch. His delivery into the box was the one thing lacking.
DF Andreas Christensen, 7 -- A performance without too many alarms which will please the Dane after his error in the first leg. Not at fault for any of the goals.
DF Antonio Rudiger, 7 -- Rugged and assured while using his range of passing to good effect. Was unlucky to see his late header cannon back off the crossbar.
MF Marcos Alonso, 8 -- One of Chelsea's more threatening players. Got forward with relish, testing both the goalkeeper's reactions and the strength of the woodwork.
MF Victor Moses, 6 -- Dealt well with any Barcelona threat and was happy to take defenders on at the other end. Unfortunately, he struggled to get a decent cross into the box despite numerous attempts.
MF N'Golo Kante, 9 -- A whirlwind of action in midfield, his extraordinary ability to win the ball back piled the pressure on the hosts in the second half. Might have scored when he dragged his shot wide following a mazy run.
MF Cesc Fabregas, 5 -- Will be disappointed with his return to Camp Nou as his passing radar was askew. Gave the ball away far too often and an uncharacteristically heavy touch resulted in the second goal.
FW Eden Hazard, 7 -- Started with the wind in his sails but then flickered in and out of the game as it progressed. Despite plenty of clever touches and turns, he almost looked like he was trying too hard.
FW Willian, 8 -- Chelsea's most in-form player was at it again, scything through Barcelona with his quick feet and direct running. Always looked like Chelsea's best route to goal.
FW Olivier Giroud, 5 -- Found himself constantly penalised, often incorrectly, when challenging for aerial balls but offered very little else. Didn't hold the ball up often enough and his link play was almost non-existent.
FW Alvaro Morata, 6 -- Showed some nice touches and plenty of energy without being a real threat.
DF Davide Zappacosta, 6 -- Drew a save from Marc-andre Ter Stegen with a swivel and shot.
FW Pedro Rodriguez, NR -- Got a rousing reception from the home fans but didn't have enough to make them regret it.
Phil is one of ESPN's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @PhilLythell.