BARCELONA, Spain — Three quick thoughts from Barcelona’s comfortable 3-0 (4-1 aggregate) win over Chelsea in the Champions League.
1. Magical Messi shows why Barca are team to beat
Lionel Messi delivered a timely reminder to the rest of Europe that he is reason why Barcelona are the team to beat in the Champions League by masterminding a 3-0 defeat of Chelsea in the Nou Camp. By netting twice against the defending Premier League champions, the Argentina star also created a piece of personal history by becoming only the second player, after Cristiano Ronaldo, to score 100 Champions League goals. Messi’s first goal, after two minutes and eight seconds, was also the quickest of his career.
On a night when he delivered a supreme performance against Antonio Conte’s team, Messi also created Barca’s second goal for Ousmane Dembele with a stunning burst into Chelsea territory before teeing up the young France forward for his first goal for the club.
Still unbeaten in La Liga, Barcelona’s dismantling of Chelsea ensures that Ernesto Valverde’s team will go into Friday’s quarterfinal draw as the club that everyone else will want to avoid. They’ve now reached the last eight for 11 successive seasons having extended their home record against English clubs to just two defeats in 33 games.
Messi’s brilliance, the tireless workrate of Luis Suarez — who has now scored just one Champions League goal in 16 games — and the under-estimated strength of their defence makes Barcelona the outstanding team still playing in the competition.
They are undoubtedly to team to beat.
2. Unlike Man United, Chelsea go down fighting
There is no good way to go out of the Champions League but while Manchester United exited the competition with a whimper against Sevilla on Tuesday, Chelsea at least gave it their best shot at the Camp Nou.
Antonio Conte’s game-plan was bold; he selected Olivier Giroud as a central striker in order to release Eden Hazard from the role he has complained about playing in recent weeks. The Chelsea manager also gave the likes of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses licence to get forward and create chances for the Premier League champions and, for the majority of this game, they matched Barca punch for punch.
Chelsea hit the post with an Alonso free-kick, had a decent penalty claim when Giroud was bundled over by Gerard Pique and saw Dembele race back to block a goal-bound Alonso effort in the second half.
Could Conte have done anything else? Would Alvaro Morata or Pedro have done any better than Giroud, who led the line well and justified his selection?
By the time Messi made it 3-0, Chelsea had created 11 chances to Barcelona’s six, so Conte cannot be criticised for his approach to the game. Quite simply, his plan worked. It is just that no plan can ever nullify Messi.
3. Hazard goes missing again on the big stage
If there was one disappointment on the night among Chelsea’s team, it was Eden Hazard, who once again failed to deliver on the Champions League stage.
Conte had spoken in the build-up to the game of the need for the Belgium forward to “start to win important trophies,” a clear reminder to the Chelsea No. 10 that after winning two Premier League titles, he really had to make an impact in the Champions League.
This was set up to be his night because Conte even named a starting XI that enabled Hazard to play in his favoured position on the left of an advanced midfield three, behind lone striker Giroud. But Hazard was anonymous and after making it clear he did not enjoy his outings as a false nine, strangely spent much of his time getting under Giroud’s feet in and around the Barcelona penalty area.
Nobody would be foolish enough to suggest that Hazard should be dominating games like Messi or Ronaldo because both of these players have been on a different planet to the rest for the best part of a decade. But Hazard is supposed to be among the best of the rest, yet he has done little to warrant that billing in the Champions League.
When it comes to most impressive forwards in the Champions League, Hazard does not even make the top 10. He just does not live up to the hype, which is probably why he was substituted on 81 minutes after another no-show on the biggest stage.