In a rollercoaster first of two meetings with Roma this month, the Blues let slip a 2-0 lead but then came from behind to share the spoils.
An early sweet strike from David Luiz was followed by the first of two Eden Hazard goals but with half-time approaching, the improving Italians halved the deficit through Aleksandar Kolarov and given the pattern of the first 45 minutes, the second half looked set for and duly delivered more goals.
To use a favoured phrase of Antonio Conte, Chelsea suffered in the early stages of the second period and Roma turned their pressure into goals and a lead with another of their former Manchester City players, Edin Dzeko, scoring twice. But not to be outdone, Hazard doubled his personal tally for the night with quarter-of-an-hour to go with a well-placed header to equalise, and we had prevented the third straight defeat that had looked on the cards.
Before kick-off at Stamford Bridge, there had been an eyebrow-raising result in our group’s other match today with Atletico Madrid held to a 0-0 draw by Qarabag in Azerbaijan, an outcome that suits both Chelsea and Roma, and further good news for the Blues was the return of Alvaro Morata.
His selection meant Conte reverted to the team shape and front pairing used away in Madrid in our previous Champions League match, and at home to Man City prior to Morata going off. Tonight the centre-forward was back supported by Hazard and with David Luiz moving into midfield, the formation was 3-5-2. Andreas Christensen was the player drafted into the centre of defence.
Morata had a good chance to mark his return inside five minutes of this game after Tiemoue Bakayoko won possession and Hazard moved the ball on quickly. The Spaniard scooped it straight into the arms of Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Roma could have scored too a couple of minutes later when Diego Perotti burst through our defence but smashed his shot just over the target. That was a warning they could pose a danger.
With the next attack, Chelsea did take the lead through David Luiz who when his first attempt to produce something threatening had not come off after a Bakayoko pass rebounded off the defence, latched onto another loose ball and lashed it low into the bottom corner of the net. It was his first goal since the opening game of the season.
Hazard, who had played his part in initiating that breakthrough attack, shot wide on 20 minutes having gone it alone when a Roma clearance had ricocheted back off Cesc Fabergas.
It was looking so far so good for Chelsea at the midway point of the first half although there was concern when David Luiz required treatment. Another injury was the last thing the Blues squad needed but the Brazilian continued on although he would not end the game.
Then on 30 minutes, it needed Thibaut Courtois’s reactions to be at their sharpest to prevent an equaliser after his kick-out had been turned into a Roma attack. Radja Nainggolan will be cursing himself for giving his international team-mate the chance to save a shot with an outstretched leg. Perotti then shot straight at Courtois as our defence continued to look stretched for a spell.
A second goal was needed to ease the nerves and it duly came from the boot of Hazard. As for the first goal, he again picked Roma’s pocket in midfield and instantly spotted Morata’s run, and although the striker’s shot was not executed as designed, it looped up off a defender and into range for Hazard to volley home. There were 37 minutes played and the lead was 2-0.
It was, however, a two-goal advantage held for just three minutes before Aleksandar Kolarov found the net for the Serie A side. The former Man City man decided to take on and managed to beat Cesar Azpilicueta before finding the net powerfully with the aid of a deflection off Christensen.
So still plenty of work to be done in the second half and Roma started the better territorially. Gerson shot over and Perotti squared the ball dangerously across the face of our goal. Conte reacted by introducing Pedro for David Luiz. As the substitution was prepared, the Brazilian embarked on a run at goal that might have paid off had a link-up with Morata worked better and the offside flag not been raised.
Pedro slotted into a midfield role with Bakayoko taking over where David Luiz had played. The Frenchman tried to swing the play back our way with an ambitious shot from distance, and from a Pedro pass Morata beat the keeper to the ball but could not turn it on target. Instead it was Roma who found the net next with a goal of quality. It came from a long pass by Federico Fazio and was finished by a thumping volley from Dzeko to which Courtois had no answer. That made it 2-2.
There was still a quarter of the game to go when Marcos Alonso went for goal and shot wide but soon after Dzeko got free to head in a free-kick from six yards out and Roma were ahead for the first time. It was not good set-piece defending.
The pressure was on and a quick response was imperative. It came from the head of Hazard, diverting a Pedro cross sent in from the corner of the penalty area into the far bottom corner of the Matthew Harding End net.
Dzeko’s hat-trick chance came and went when the Bosnian headed wide from close range. Chelsea substitute Toni Rudiger headed a more difficult opportunity wide at the other end. A bandaged Gary Cahill then looped a header over from a Fabregas free-kick in added time at the end before one last Courtois save just before the final whistle.
Our first points in this group stage had been dropped but the lead at the top of the table over the Italians remains two points, with our visit to their capital city to come on 31 October.