Chelsea on track after a dramatic rollercoaster ride
Chelsea 3 Roma 3
If Chelsea’s decidedly mixed start to the new season could be condensed into one erratic performance — it would be this one.
The Premier League champions almost threw away all three points against an entertainingly aggressive Roma side last night, losing a two-goal lead to briefly trail 3-2, only for the sublime Eden Hazard to rescue a crucial point with time running out.
It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult. With half-time less than five minutes away the Blues were cruising, on course for all three points thanks to fine goals from David Luiz and Hazard.
But a fortunate strike from Aleksandar Kolarov and a stunning brace from Edin Dzeko, both former Manchester City players who know Stamford Bridge all too well, had Chelsea reeling and in danger of a first European defeat of the season.
It marks the first time in Antonio Conte’s managerial career that his team have conceded three goals in a Champions League game, and his defence could have done better with all three of them.
Buoyed by the news that Atletico Madrid had failed to beat 10-man FK Qarabag on their travels in the early kick-off, both sides started at a thunderous pace.
Luiz broke the deadlock when he curled a sublime low shot beyond Alisson Becker and into the corner of the goal.
Chelsea doubled their lead on the counter-attack.
Alvaro Morata’s deflected shot fell kindly for Hazard at the back-post, with the Belgian making no mistake from close range to notch his first goal of the season. Having played so impressively, Roma were unlucky to find themselves heading into half-time two goals down, but a familiar face helped them to halve Chelsea’s lead shortly before the break.
Kolarov, who moved to the club from Manchester City in the summer, attempted to squeeze a shot beyond the lunging Andreas Christensen. It looped off the youngster and over Thibaut Courtois, and Roma were back in contention.
It took another City old boy to seize one of the myriad of Roma chances that followed, and a Tottenham reject to make it. Pouncing on the ball in the middle of the park, the much-maligned Federico Fazio floated an inch-perfect pass above the Chelsea defence and into the path of Dzeko, who lashed home a sublime volley.
Tiemoué Bakayoko then conceded a free-kick in a dangerous position on the left and Kolarov’s whipped cross was aimed at only one man. Again Dzeko was just too powerful, evading the attention of Cesar Azpilicueta and thumping his header home from the edge of the six-yard box. Roma were rightfully in the lead.
Eusebio di Francesco counselled calm as, alongside him, Conte wheeled his arms around in fury.
Then Cesc Fabregas played Pedro into space down the right and the Spaniard picked out Hazard, the Belgian doubling his tally for the evening — and the season — with a brilliantly cushioned header.
Both sides had chances to nick it at the end, but equally both teams will be reasonably content with a point given Atletico’s struggles. The draw leaves Group C finely poised, with Chelsea set to go to Rome in just under two weeks’ time.