Lionel Messi turned on the style once again, with a magnificent performance as Barcelona outclassed Chelsea 3-0 (4-1 on aggregate) at the Nou Camp to progress to the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night.
The first leg in London had ended in a 1-1 draw, with Barcelona somewhat fortuitous to come away from Stamford Bridge with a point, and luck favoured them in the second leg as well as they took advantage of some poor goalkeeping to take the lead in the 3rd minute itself.
Lionel Messi, playing for the first time since his wife gave birth to their third child, beat Thibaut Courtois from a tight angle with low finish that went between his legs to register his fastest-ever goal in a Barcelona jersey.
Chelsea were bright, but soon found themselves 2-0 down after Ousmane Dembele rifled a shot into the roof of the net and the ‘rout’ would be complete in the second-half when Messi scored via a nutmeg finish for the second time on the night.
The Blues took the game to the hosts, hitting the post twice and perhaps on another day could have had two away goals, but it wasn’t to be and Barcelona became the last team to book their path into the quarters.
While the scoreline suggested a canter for La Blaugrana, it was anything but as Chelsea did dominate for large parts as we pick the five major talking points from the tie at the Nou Camp:
Chelsea came to play, but made to pay by ruthless Barcelona
After their travails in front of goals and their coach’s ‘cautious’ approach, especially in big games, Blues fans could have been forgiven for thinking that the Premier League giants would park the bus at the Nou Camp.
And to their credit, they did anything but.
Full of attacking endeavour from the off, the West Londoners made the mighty Catalans squirm on more than one occasion on their own turf.
With Eden Hazard back in his favoured position, the Belgian was making things happen as was Wilian and while the scoreline suggested a stroll for La Blaugrana, Ernesto Valverde’s side never truly looked comfortable despite continuing to extend their lead at regular intervals.
Still, football is won on goals and not merely on possession stats (oh, the irony) or shots on target for that matter, and in this crucial department, the Catalans were miles ahead of their opponents.
Helped by suspect goalkeeping, of course, but they took their chances while the Blues seemed incapable of truly testing Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, let alone beating him.
Lionel Messi sparkles on the big stage, yet again
Not a bad way to bring up 100 UEFA Champions League goals, eh?
What with Cristian Ronaldo hogging the headlines after his goalscoring exploits against Paris Saint-Germain, Messi just had to respond and while he had broken his duck against the Blues in the first leg, the second was all about him as he pulled the strings with another virtuoso display.
After missing out on the weekend’s action due to the birth of his third child, the 30-year-old Argentine tuned on the style with a brace and a deft assist for good measure.
Had it not been for the near-superhuman efforts of N’Golo Kante, perhaps Barcelona’s No.10 could have run riot, but he still did more than enough as the Catalan giants effectively coasted into the quarters.
The likes of Thibaut Courtois and Cezar Azpilicueta, both seasoned professions, were made to look silly by the diminutive wizard from Rosario and even the commentators were slack-jawed each time the Argentine showed his marker a clean set of heels.
Thibaut Courtois’ blunders cost Blues dear
While Andreas Christensen’s error in the first-leg had threatened to undo Chelsea’s good work, the tie was still very much in the balance on Wednesday.
While Barcelona still were favourites, the Blues were still in contention but were left with a mountain to climb when custodian Courtois conceded from a tight angle in the third minute itself.
Replays showed Messi’s shot had squirmed its way past his legs and while the West Londoners didn’t give up despite the early deficit, they were well and truly finished when Messi scored his second after the interval.
Again, the Barcelona winger scored via a nutmeg finish and for all the talk of Courtois being interested in a move to Real Madrid, this was not the ideal display for a goalkeeper who wishes to be considered elite.
At this level, gaffes like these can prove fatal and that’s exactly what happened.
Too often goalkeepers get the brunt whenever their side loses, but at the Nou Camp, there can be no denying that Courtois let his team down.
Ousmane Dembele silences critics, for now at least
Lionel Messi will get the plaudits as he broke a number of records, but his young teammate Ousmane Dembele was a standout player too.
Playing on the right side of a 4-4-2 in midfield, the Frenchman was terrific in an unfamiliar role.
Tasked with tracking back as well, the former Borussia Dortmund man did his job perfectly with an energetic display and he got his first-ever UEFA Champions League goal to put the cherry on top.
His struggles in his first season at the Nou Camp have been well-documented and while Philippe Coutinho’s arrival has made his status as starter uncertain, a performance like this won’t have hurt his cause one bit.
It’s easy to forget Barcelona’s record-signing is still only 20 and has plenty of upside to his game.
And the fact that he’s coming into form as the business end of the season nears can only bode well for the Catlans as they bid to win yet another treble.
Why can’t Chelsea play like this every game?
Dominating mid-table opposition at home is one thing, but going to the Nou Camp and bossing Barcelona for large swathes of a tie is another ballgame.
Antonio Conte’s made it very clear that he’s not had the proper personnel to mount a serious challenge on several fronts, but from Wednesday’s showing it would seem that the Blues don’t have a half-bad squad.
Yes, their defence wasn’t up to the mark and Cesc Fabregas disappointed on his Barcelona return, but the likes of Willian and Eden Hazard were electric.
Perhaps had Alvaro Morata been fit for both legs, this could have been another story but the the fact remains that the Blues can take plenty of positives from their showing in Catalonia.
Too often Conte has resorted to a false-nine formation, which clearly doesn’t get the best out of Hazard and the Italian tactician surely will utilise either Olivier GIroud or Alvaro Morata up top in the games to come?
The West Londoners still have plenty to play for, contrary to popular perception, and should they end their season with a flourish, who knows what could happen in the summer?