Barcelona v Chelsea: ‘Joyous’ Lionel Messi joins the Champions League 100 club
Barcelona v Chelsea: ‘Joyous’ Lionel Messi joins the Champions League 100 club
Lionel Messi seems to reach a milestone or set a record every time he plays. Against Chelsea on Wednesday, there were two.
Firstly, he registered his fastest goal in the Champions League by netting after two minutes eight seconds from a narrow angle, and later he reached 100 goals in the competition with a blistering low strike which went – as did his first – straight through the legs of Blues keeper Thibaut Courtois.
He is now only the second player to reach a century of goals in Europe’s premier club competition, joining his great rival at Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo, in the 100 club.
Ronaldo’s current tally stands at 117 in 148 games. Messi’s 100 has come up in 123.
The next man on the list – former Real Madrid forward Raul – has 71 goals. Of those still playing on the list of most Champions League goals, Karim Benzema is closest to Messi and Ronaldo with 53.
|Champions League top goalscorers|
|Ruud van Nistlerooy||73||56|
Magical Messi does it again
But Messi offers more than just goals.
The Argentine maestro, who is enjoying arguably the best season of his stunning career, also stepped up to deliver an astonishing assist by robbing Cesc Fabregas on the halfway line, beating two men and squaring an astute pass perfectly into the path of Ousmane Dembele for the second goal.
Messi’s genius cannot be measured by facts and stats. Chelsea boss Antonio Conte called him “extraordinary” and former Barca striker Gary Lineker tweeted that Messi was “joyous”, which is a good way of describing a player who seems to perform for the pure love of the game and always finds new ways to astonish.
Some of Messi’s close control and dribbling was breathtaking, drawing gasps of delight from the home crowd, and with three goals and that wondrous assist over the course of the two legs of the Chelsea tie it’s very easy to conclude that he was the difference between the teams.
And he’s not finished yet. Messi is an arch-competitor and he is gunning for his fifth Champions League title after seeing bitter rivals Real Madrid take the title for the past two seasons.
When Pep Guardiola was asked recently whether his high-flying Manchester City team should be regarded as favourites for the Champions League, he had a simple answer: “Who does Messi play for? They are the favourites.” Pep should know. And he has a point, doesn’t he?
Dembele’s turning point?
Although Messi will rightly claim the lion’s share of the headlines, perhaps the most significant moment in the game from the home team’s perspective was Dembele’s thumping finish from Messi’s assist – finally registering his first goal in Barca colours.
Dembele has suffered a tough first season at the Nou Camp following his 105m euro (£96.8m) summer move from Borussia Dortmund, missing more than three months through injury and often looking out of place in his few outings since he regained fitness.
His selection in the starting XI was quite a surprise after he was left on the bench for the first leg, but the flamboyant manner in which he took his goal, firing a fierce rising drive into the roof of the net, showed exactly how important he could become to this team.
There’s no doubt about Dembele’s talent, and his ability to take on defenders and penetrate into the area gives the team an important degree of attacking variety they otherwise lack – as seen during the meeting at Stamford Bridge, when Barca were lucky to escape with a draw after creating very few chances.
But he needs time to adapt to Barca’s style, and his cause has not been helped by local media reports that boss Ernesto Valverde has been unhappy with his failure to learn Spanish more quickly – hindering his understanding of tactical instructions – and a supposed lack of focus on the training ground.
Dembele needed a turning point in his Barca career, and his gleefully taken goal may just provide it, letting everyone know – his team-mates, Valverde, fans and perhaps most importantly himself – that he is ready to start delivering for this relentlessly demanding club.
His performance against Chelsea was far from perfect. He conceded possession cheaply on occasions and didn’t always look fully in tune with his team-mates’ intentions, but there was also plenty of promise. If he continues to improve, he will play a major role in Barca’s Champions League challenge.
Midfield tweaks but Barca still vulnerable
One understated change instigated by Valverde in the past few weeks has been a tweak in midfield, with Ivan Rakitic dropping back into a more defensive role alongside Sergio Busquets.
Rakitic was almost impeccable on Wednesday night. He completed 74 passes, more than any other player, at a conversion rate of 94.6%, with his controlled and sensible passing keeping his team ticking over in the way Busquets has done for so many years.
This change to a ‘double pivot’, with two midfielders shielding the back four, rather than Busquets filling the role by himself, fills two functions: firstly, it gives the defence more protection, and secondly it allows Busquets to advance further forward to link up with Messi.
However, both Rakitic and Busquets are relatively slow and that was repeatedly exposed in this game, with both Eden Hazard and Willian regularly using their dribbling skills to create dangerous openings for the visitors – who really deserved at least one goal for their attacking efforts.
The 3-0 scoreline flattered Barca, with Chelsea hitting the post twice and outstanding home team centre back Samuel Umtiti producing some important interventions – he made seven interceptions, far more than any other player, and blocked three shots.
So Valverde could yet look to reshape his midfield again as his team heads into the latter stages of the competition, with the additional physical power of Paulinho – who replaced half-fit skipper Andres Iniesta for the final 35 minutes – a strong option for the Barca coach.
Business as usual for dominant La Liga
Predictably, Barca have plenty of Iberian company in the latter stages, with Real Madrid and Sevilla also progressing to the last eight.
The fact that Chelsea, Manchester United and Paris St-Germain – all highly regarded teams – were the victims of Spanish opposition makes it clear that La Liga still sets the standard among the continent’s elite.
This is the eighth consecutive season that both Barca and Real have reached the quarter-finals, and the sixth year in a row with three Spanish teams in the last eight.
|Sixteen become eight…|
|This season’s Champions League quarter-finalists are: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Roma and Sevilla.|
|The draw will take place in Nyon, Switzerland at 11:00 GMT on Friday – and you can follow it live on the BBC Sport website and app.|
And although the class and composure shown by Sevilla during their fully deserved victory over Jose Mourinho’s United might have taken some by surprise, any informed observers know that Spanish teams take some beating when it comes to the latter stages of the Champions League – La Liga sides have now beaten Premier League opponents in 22 of their past 26 European knockout ties.
Ultimately, it will probably come down to the big two. Between them, Barca or Real have won the Champions League for the past four years, and six out of the past nine (only Inter Milan in 2010, Chelsea in 2012 and Bayern Munich in 2013 have been able to break their stranglehold).
And although English football can be encouraged to have two representatives in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2014, the big question facing Liverpool, Manchester City and the other four remaining teams is simple: can anyone stop Real Madrid and Barcelona?
via BBC Sport – Football http://ift.tt/OHg7x6
March 14, 2018 at 04:42PM