Chelsea recover to snatch a draw in six-goal thriller with Roma
After going 2-0 up, home side were pegged back before going behind
Roma’s Edin Dzeko celebrates scoring his side’s third goal during their Champions League clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Chelsea 3 Roma 3
Chelsea halted a losing run here but, even in the knowledge that their leadership of this group is maintained, Antonio Conte will not be hoodwinked by this result. There had been moments when his side gasped at the ferocity of Roma’s muscular approach, and periods when the home team were left flailing desperately in pursuit of the ball. Their head coach will shudder at the memory of another opponent, this time crammed with former Manchester City players rather than Pep Guardiola’s current crop, dominating the play so confidently.
Yet there was also character and belief from players who appear increasingly stretched by a remorseless schedule. There were 15 minutes to play when Eden Hazard found space in Roma’s box to guide home Pedro’s centre and ensure the hosts at least salvaged a point. Their earlier two-goal lead had always felt deceptive, and the Italians will be licking their lips at the prospect of confronting Conte’s side at the Stadio Olimpico on 31 October. But, for now, Chelsea have at least stopped the rot.
Confirmation that Atlético Madrid had dropped yet more points after failing to beat Qarabag’s 10 men in Baku, would have fuelled both these sides’ conviction that this group is there for the taking. Yet, though Chelsea had a 100% record in this competition at kick-off, their priority had actually been recovery. Domestic defeats by Manchester City and, more remarkably, Crystal Palace had rather doused the optimism generated by last month’s eye-catching success at the Estadio Metropolitano. This team, with Alvaro Morata restored to their number, had required a response.
Perhaps that contributed to the nerves. There was a tension to this performance from the outset, an anxiety which did not recede even when the hosts’ lead stood at 2-0 eight minutes before the break. Indeed, it flared in the moments immediately after Aleksandar Kolarov had pushed the ball through Davide Zappacosta and César Azpilicueta and then barged round the outside to batter a shot goalwards. The ball flicked off Andreas Christensen to arc over Thibaut Courtois, with those vociferous away supporters in the Shed End erupting in celebration. Their team’s aggressive approach had deserved an injection of hope.
There must have been deflation, too, given how Diego Perotti’s scuttling runs had yielded no more than a shot fizzed just over the bar and another directed straight at Courtois. More critical had been the goalkeeper’s near-post save to deny his Belgian compatriot, Radja Nainggolan, after a fine Kevin Strootman pass. These were clear opportunities, squeezed from an uncharacteristically jittery back-line. And yet the visitors had still departed at the break in arrears and cursing the ruthlessness of Chelsea’s finishing.
Those goals should have lanced the tension, even if they had been prised out on the counter-attack. David Luiz, operating in central midfield in the absence of the hamstrung N’Golo Kanté, had made his impact early, picking the ball up inside the Roma half and, as he galloped cross-field, attempting to skim a pass through to Morata just inside the penalty area. Juan Jesus blocked that slide-rule pass but the Brazilian merely continued his run on to the loose ball and, with the visitors slow to react, bent a delicious shot beyond Alisson Becker and into the corner from 25 yards.
Eden Hazard might have doubled the lead after pouncing on another slack pass near the half-way line, the Belgian using Morata as a decoy before dragging a shot wide, but his reward would come. Morata, attempting to place a shot into the far corner, had his attempt blocked by Federico Fazio only for the ball to spiral up and over Juan Jesus in the centre. Hazard lurked behind the centre-half, having pealed off cleverly and unnoticed into space, with the forward eagerly tucking away the half-volley.
From a position of such apparent dominance it seemed alarming that Chelsea were still left puffing their cheeks in relief at Gerson’s inability to wrap his leg around Marcos Alonso and convert Perotti’s cross from close-range, an effort which, if directed on target, would surely have thrust the visitors level before the interval. Yet the urgency remained Italian, Nainggolan constantly snapping into challenges and Courtois doing well to prod out a low centre from Kolarov as Edin Dzeko prepared to tap into a gaping net from a yard out. The home players greeted that intervention with high fives for the goalkeeper. As it was, Dzeko was merely waiting for his moment.
It came just after the hour-mark as Fazio was permitted to amble forward in possession before spotting the former City striker’s dart behind Christensen. The ball was flighted superbly over the retreating centre-half but, from a relatively unkind angle, it still took a volley of brutal splendour from Dzeko to beat Courtois. The finish exploded through the goalkeeper’s attempt to save and Roma, rewarded splendidly for their pressure, were level.
Thereafter, the composure drained from Chelsea, with Roma forever sensing the initiative was theirs. Tiémoué Bakayoko’s foul duly conceded a free-kick from which Kolarov fizzed in a centre and Dzeko, permitted a free run, guided a header down and beyond Courtois to put the visitors ahead. Hazard would make their ascendancy shortlived but, with Dzeko almost forcing home a late winner from close range, the frenzy of this contest will linger long.