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
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 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
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.
A report in the Times newspaper earlier in the day claimed that Hazard was holding off on a £300,000-a-week contract with Chelsea, concerned that signing would spell the end of any chance of joining Real Madrid.
The 26-year-old, who has two-and-half years to run on his current deal, took his chance to impress against Real’s city rivals.
The Belgian’s dribbling ability frequently left defenders in his wake and wide open space for his team-mates to exploit.
One superb slaloming run early in the second half took him to the heart of the Atletico box, only for Hazard to see his finish deflect wide off a despairing visitor.
As one of few potential successors to Lionel Messi and Cristano Ronaldo as the world’s best, his negotiating position, whether in English or Spanish, grew a little stronger.
Man of the match was Eden Hazard.
- Even though they have progressed, only once have Chelsea had fewer points in the current Champions League group stage, back in 2012-13 when they were eliminated from the competition.
- In fact, since 2003-04, this is just the fourth time they have failed to finish top of their Champions League group.
- The Blues have lost just one of their last 41 Champions League group stage matches at Stamford Bridge (winning 30 and drawing 10) – a 1-2 loss against FC Basel in September 2013.
- Chelsea have also scored in 27 successive Champions League group stage home games – the last time they failed to score was in a 0-0 draw against Valencia in December 2007.
- The last time Atletico were knocked out of the Champions League group stage was in 2009-10 when they won the Europa League at the end of the season.
- Fernando Torres has been directly involved in eight goals in his 10 appearances against Chelsea in all competitions with seven goals and one assist.
- Saul Níguez’s goal was Atletico’s first away from home in the Champions League in six and a half hours of football, since the Spaniard scored at Leicester in April.