Messi turns drought to glut as Barca dump out Chelsea
Little master scores two to secure Champions League quarter-final slot
Ousmane Dembele celebrates with Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi after scoring their second goal in the Champions League round of 16 second leg match at the Camp Nou stadium. Photograph: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images
Barcelona 3 Chelsea 0 (Barcelona win 4-1 on aggregate)
They began the night by unveiling a giant banner – “God Save the King” – behind one of the goals to celebrate the precious magic of Lionel Messi during the singing of El Cant del Barça. The little man certainly didn’t let anyone down, and by the time he had finished it was difficult not to think that far too much had been made of that statistic about him failing to score in any of his first eight matches against Chelsea.
His ninth and 10th appearances against the team from Stamford Bridge have buried that one now Barcelona are into the quarter-finals and Chelsea are left to reflect on an error-strewn night when they created far too many problems for themselves.
Messi contributed three-quarters of Barcelona’s goals over the two legs. He is football royalty, as everyone knows, but the bottom line for Chelsea is that no side can defend this generously and expect to get away with it. Not at this level when the opposition features a player who might be the best there has ever been.
Chelsea hit the woodwork four times, created several chances and were convinced, at 2-0, that they should have been awarded a penalty. Ultimately, though, they contributed heavily to their own downfall, just as they did in the first leg.
At Stamford Bridge it was Andreas Christensen’s mistake that dramatically changed the complexion. Now it is Thibaut Courtous who will have to accept a lot of the blame after letting the first shot of the night find a gap between his legs. Not even Messi would try a nutmeg from 12 yards. Yet Chelsea’s goalkeeper turned it into one. Courtois did not seem to anticipate the shot, could not adjust his feet quickly enough and his first touch of the night was to retrieve the ball from his net.
The goal arrived after 127 seconds and at that stage only two Chelsea players had had the temerity to interrupt Barça’s keep-ball. Antonio Rüdiger was the first, with a sliding tackle, and the second was Marcos Alonso inadvertently diverting an attempted one-two between Messi and Dembélé into Luis Suárez.
Messi was already on the move and, for a player whose left foot seems to be on first-name terms with the ball, the Argentinian showed here that he can gain a fair bit of power out of his right one, too. It was his 601st career goal and the quickest of the lot.
Chelsea’s response to the early setback might have been quite encouraging for the supporters watching, amid fluttering bats, from the most vertiginous part of the stadium.
Yet it is never a good idea presenting the ball to the man wearing Barça’s number 10 shirt.
After 19 minutes a shot from Eden Hazard was blocked by Samuel Umtiti and ricocheted all the way to the centre circle. Christensen’s header put Cesc Fàbregas in trouble and suddenly the ball was with the one player Chelsea feared above all.
Messi slalomed away from Christensen’s first challenge, dinked the ball past César Azpilicueta, then ran round the other side to collect it and deliver the killer pass, left to right, with a vision and finesse that took out five different players all at once. Dembélé took a touch to steady himself and his shot was still rising as it flew into the top corner.
Again Chelsea responded like a team that still thought a feat of escapology was on. Willian and Hazard caused plenty of problems with their quick, incisive running and Conte’s men did create some presentable chances in the first half to make it a more interesting night.
Alonso came the closest with a 25-yard free-kick that skimmed off the outside of the post but there was also the moment when N’Golo Kanté ran behind the home defence only to find Fàbregas getting in his way. Fàbregas would surely have produced a better finish than his team-mate but, equally, his presence might be the very reason Kanté slashed his shot wide.
Chelsea will also reflect on the incident early in the second half when the Slovenian referee gave Gerard Piqué the benefit of the doubt as Alonso went down inside the penalty area. Indeed, the paradox of the night was that it was unusual to see one of Barça’s opponents with this number of players in advanced positions.
Conte would not be stretching the truth to say his team, aside from the individual errors, looked a very able team. The problem was they were making life incredibly difficult for themselves and for the third goal they were vulnerable as soon as Azpilicueta lost the ball in his own half. Suárez’s first instinct was to look for “the King” and Messi’s shot caught out Courtois again.
Rüdiger’s header came back off the crossbar in stoppage time but that, for Chelsea, felt like an irrelevance when the final whistle went soon afterwards. – Guardian service