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Champions League

UCL: Chelsea Claim Draw In Pulsating Tie With Roma

chelsea roma champions league
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 18: Radja Nainggolan of AS Roma and Cesc Fabregas of Chelsea battle for possession during the UEFA Champions League group C match between Chelsea FC and AS Roma at Stamford Bridge on October 18, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

This really was a hazard warning. Chelsea were defensively catastrophic, alarm bells ringing amid rising chaos, before relying on Eden Hazard to rescue them with the second of his two goals, the first he has scored in the Champions League for 33 months, averting a third successive defeat.

That chaos was all over the pitch with David Luiz stomping off with a calf problem after his opening wondergoal, but not before Conte had shown his apparent displeasure at the Brazilian at times ­brilliant but also scattergun performance while Cesc Fabregas had a page of instructions thrust into his hands.

There was more. Captain Gary Cahill suffered a clash of heads, a cut chin and carried on with a bandage applied around his head, ­making him appear like Humpty-Dumpty, and there was an egg-like fragility to Chelsea so unusual under Conte, who was also warned by Slovenian referee Damir Skomina for his jack-in-the-box – or outside the box as he encroached beyond his technical area.

Conte was scathing afterwards, accusing his players of losing ­“totally our knowledge, our style of football”, although he eventually checked himself to praise the ­character his team showed after they appeared to have fractured.

Had Chelsea lost, it really would have made their visit to Rome in a fortnight’s time all the more enthralling. It had seemed the headlines would be about another Eden – or Edin – with Roma striker Edin Dzeko scoring two superb goals, including a spectacular volley, and going agonisingly close to complete a hat-trick with a close-range header just past a post.

Roma’s other goal came from ­another former Manchester City player, Aleksandar Kolarov. Conte must be sick of anyone associated with City, having lost against them in their previous home match.

For all the defensive deficiencies, and they were shared by Roma, this was a vibrant and exciting encounter humming with fine attacking play, although it remains uncomfortable to see a team of Chelsea’s ambitions reduced to the counter-attack.

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At times Roma had 70 per cent possession with Radja Nainggolan, who was Conte’s first transfer target when the Italian took over at Chelsea, dominant in midfield. That was all the more worrying for Conte given he packed that department, just as he had done in their impressive win at Atletico Madrid, until he abandoned the system.

That performance depended on Hazard and Alvaro Morata and the striker’s return from his hamstring injury was key to the way Chelsea surged into a two-goal lead with Conte’s tactics appearing to work. Those goals also depended on Roma mistakes, seized on by an ­apparently ruthless Chelsea.

Luiz claimed the first as he nicked the ball away and rolled a pass towards Morata. It was intercepted by Juan Jesus but only back into the path of Luiz, who ran on to it and arced a powerful shot around Jesus, beyond goalkeeper Alisson Becker and into the net.

Roma threatened and should have drawn level when Marcos Alonso was caught forward and the ball was angled into the penalty area by Kevin Strootman, with a clever reverse pass for Nainggolan to hit a powerful first-time shot at Thibaut Courtois’s near-post. Courtois blocked.

But then Chelsea capitalised again on another turnover as Hazard stole the ball away, dispossessing Bruno Peres to find Morata, whose shot looped up off Federico Fazio and dropped for Hazard to steer past Alisson.

Normally, with Conte’s Chelsea, that would have felt game over. Roma, though, had more and sensed the vulnerability and, when Kolarov pushed the ball past Cesar Azpilicueta, as the defender over-committed, he ran on to side-foot a rising effort that clipped off ­Andreas Christensen to finally beat Courtois. The dynamic changed. Nainggolan’s booming goalbound shot was charged down, Azpilicueta diverted another from Strootman, Gerson fired over, Kolarov overlapped with his low cross just cut out by Courtois ahead of Dzeko.

It was the kind of momentum that led to an inevitable goal. And what a goal as Fazio floated the ball into the area where Dzeko had cleverly pulled away from Christensen to thump a controlled left-footed volley past Courtois.

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Then Tiemoue Bakayoko, apparently suffering a groin problem, clumsily conceded a free-kick which Kolarov curled in for Dzeko to steal between Christensen and Azpilicueta to glance in a header.

Now it seemed over but there was time and substitute Pedro was given the opportunity to cross with Hazard shrewdly finding space to steer a rare header away from ­Alisson. Improbably, given the capitulation that preceded it, Chelsea were level and, to Conte’s relief, it stayed that way.

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