Barcelona stride into the quarter finals with some Messi magic at the Camp Nou
The stage was set, the second leg of the often dramatic contest between Barcelona and Chelsea was taking place at the Camp Nou, a cauldron of Spanish football. The tie was finely poised at 1-1, with Barcelona in the stronger position with an away goal.
Chelsea knew they had to score to have any chance of progressing. The Chelsea manager had been under intense pressure in the last couple of weeks and this was a must win game for him and his team.
An early goal
You could sense a quiet confidence in the demeanor of the Catalan giants. We saw why soon enough. Chelsea’s game plan went out of the window pretty early on; in a matter of minutes really. There was a bit of luck involved with the goal though.
It went something like Messi to Dembele, an attempt from Dembele which came off Alonso and landed at Suarez’s feet. A lovely back-heel from the ex-liverpool man set up Messi. The little man calmly dispatched the ball through a hapless Thibaut Courtois’s legs, scoring confidently on his weaker right foot. Messi was ‘messi’, Courtois was messy. He should have done much better for that goal.
It was a setback but it wouldn’t have changed Chelsea’s approach to the game. They still had to score. Chelsea was calm; they responded well and started getting on the ball more. They had a spell of sustained pressure but Barcelona shot back again.
The opportunity almost came out from nowhere. Hazard made a winding, mazy run into the box but his shot was blocked bravely by Samuel Umtiti and bounced off him all the way to Cesc Farbregas at the centre of the pitch.
Messi reacted quickly and robbed his former team-mate of the ball and then rode two challenges gliding past Cesar Azpilicueta and Anders Christensen, before showing wonderful vision to tee up Ousmane Dembele waiting on the other side of box.
Dembele took one touch to set himself and thumped the ball into the top corner. Courtois got a hand to the shot but there was too much venom behind it. Less than half of the first half played and Chelsea were 2-0 down.
At the break, Chelsea should have been quite happy with the account they gave of themselves. They had a few chances, Alonso was whiskers away with a free-kick right before the whistle. All was not lost yet. There was still hope.
More of Messi magic in the second half
The blues started well in the second half. Giroud was having more of a say in the game, but it didn’t last for long. Chelsea gave the ball away again and Leo Messi was on hand to finish, yet again. He ran past two Chelsea players and scored again with another sweeping finish through Courtois’ legs.
The ball was hit so well, so true; the goalkeeper couldn’t really be blamed for this one. It was game, set and match. Chelsea were 3-0 down on the night, and 4-1 on aggregate. Conte made substitutions almost immediately but it was tough going for the London club. They kept at it but there was an assurance about Barcelona now. They knew the game was won.
The last major chance of the game summed up Chelsea’s night. Anthony Rudiger hit the underside of the bar, but it bounced back out. No goal. Antonio Conte can’t have many complaints from his players.
They gave him everything they had. They hit the post twice, they might even have deserved a penalty when Alonso was brought down in box but they were beaten by one very special player. It was the Leo Messi show. He had a part to play in every goal, after scoring two, and setting up the third.
Conte had a long chat with him after the game; he knew Messi was on another level tonight. And he was; a silent assassin, inconspicuously ambling along on the pitch. In an instant he would come alive.
He was a split second quicker than everyone else on the pitch and he punished Chelsea time and time again. Conte was probably telling him just that. ‘If you weren’t on the pitch tonight, this match may have gone very differently’.
Chelsea played well, but Messi played better. Barcelona march on to the quarter finals with a spring in their step. Chelsea got knocked out, but they didn’t tap out.