Chelsea do not fear Barca or PSG in last 16 despite slip-up


Saul Niguez

Atletico managed only three efforts on target, but were able to frustrate the hosts

Eden Hazard says Chelsea do not fear facing Paris St Germain or Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 after his side were held to a draw by Atletico Madrid and missed out on top spot in their group.

As it stands, Turkish side Besiktas are the only other possible opponents for the Blues in the knockout stages.

“It’s not a problem who we get, we are Chelsea,” said the attacker.

“We know PSG and Barcelona are very good but we are a top team too. We can do anything.”

Chelsea had dominated against Atletico until the opening goal, with Alvaro Morata going close and Hazard almost weaving through the visiting defence.

But Saul Niguez escaped the attentions of Tiemoue Bakayoko to plant home a header from Fernando Torres’ near-post flick-on after 56 minutes.

Chelsea piled forward as time ebbed away, and Stefan Savic turned Eden Hazard’s cross into his own net as the pressure told.

But, with Roma beating Qarabag in the Italian capital, Chelsea could not find the second goal and the victory needed to regain the lead in Group C.

Chelsea’s knockout equation

Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte

Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte (right) were animated figures in the final 15 minutes with both their sides pushing for victory

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte claimed afterwards that whoever his team draw “won’t be happy to play us”.

Spartak Moscow or Sevilla may yet become possible opponents if Wednesday evening’s matches change the standings in Group E, where Liverpool currently lead the way.

But the unsettling prospect of taking on either free-spending PSG or five-time champions Barcelona over two legs hung over Stamford Bridge at the final whistle.

Chelsea and Atletico Madrid touch map

While Chelsea (left) got into dangerous crossing positions and into the box in attack, Atletico (right) were kept at bay for most part by the hosts.

Chelsea had plenty of chances to leap-frog back over Roma in the group with Morata and substitutes Willian and Michy Batshuayi all missing glorious chances in a frenetic final 15 minutes.

Against Besiktas, whose last taste of Champions League knockout football was in the 1992-93 season, such attacking invention should be enough.

Whether it would undo one of the continent’s superpowers is far less clear.

“When you play this competition and go through, you must be ready to face the best teams. We know we can play those three,” said a defiant Conte.

The Italian even suggested that English teams are stronger, relative to overseas opposition, earlier in the tournament before a busy fixture list and lack of a winter break take effect.

“When you arrive at the final stage English teams have a lot of games in the legs. It makes it problematic to win,” he added.

The end of the road for Atletico

Atletico Madrid leave the field after a draw with Chelsea

Atletico Madrid will compete in the Europa League for the first time since 2013

For Atletico Madrid, the draw marked the end of a curiously weak Champions League campaign.

The damage had been done to the Spanish side, semi-finalists last season and runners-up in two of the last four, long before this creditable point however.

Draws at home and away to Azerbaijani underdogs Qarabag earlier in the campaign ultimately left them with too much ground to make up as they finished four points shy of Roma and Chelsea.

The club’s new Wanda Metropolitano stadium will instead host Europa League football in 2018. Former Chelsea striker Diego Costa, currently ineligible because of a ban on Atletico registering new players, will be available by then.

His new club, toothless at Stamford Bridge, could do with his trademark snarl. Antoine Griezmann, who has scored seven goals in an underwhelming campaign, lurked wide and dropped deep, but rarely threatened.

Instead it was strike-partner Torres, on the return to the club where he scored 46 goals in 172 games, who provided the more telling touch, setting up Niguez’s goal before departing to a standing ovation from both sets of fans.

Hazard ahead

Eden Hazard takes on Atletico Madrid

Hazard was a constant menace to the Atletico defence

A report in the Times newspaper