Barça stormed into the Champions League quarter-finals with a blistering 7-1 victory over Bayer Leverkusen. A mesmerizing Leo Messi scored an incredible five goals while substitute Cristian Tello chipped in with the other two. Poor Bayer were blown away tonight but they had the consolation of scoring a fine goal right at the end through Bellarabi.
Messi’s performance tonight was the closest thing I have ever seen to perfection on a football field over 90 minutes. There were no penalties here, no free kicks, five goals which each demonstrated a killer instinct from this marvelous player. Messi threatened early on with a chest and volley after Cesc’s excellent chip but Leno made a good save and when Messi got the ball back in, Pedro couldn’t force the ball home.
Our other early attempts came from free kicks, though Xavi was finding the German wall that little bit taller to curl the ball over. Then from a free kick on the left Leno needed to make a good save after Piqué ducked under Xavi’s cross, but this was just a warm up to the main feature. Messi’s first came in the 25th minute, Bayer were pushed up near the halfway line when Xavi played a perfectly weighted pass over the top, Messi was away and when Leno came out to close him down Messi scooped the ball over the keeper and the ball rolled into the empty net.
Messi scored a splendid second after a rapid counter attack just before half time. Piqué played a poor pass to a German on the halfway line, but Mascherano was brilliant in his anticipation to steal the ball back and surge into the Leverkusen half, Iniesta worked as the link moving the ball on to Messi on the right, and as he has done so often in the past Messi cut inside onto his left foot and fired a cool low shot inside the far post.
Barça nearly got another before half time but neither Cesc nor Pedro could finish after Messi’s superb turn and pass. Then straight after the break Cesc was too generous trying to work the ball back to Messi after a rapid one-touch build-up between the two and Andres Iniesta.
Messi’s hat-trick didn’t have to wait much longer. In the 50th minute Cesc sent a brilliant pass through to Messi who controlled with his left before lifting the ball over the advanced Leno, this time with his right foot. Anybody who thinks Messi is a one-footed player should watch the subtlety of this fine finish.
You could see the Leverkusen heads drop and Guardiola chose the perfect moment to rest Xavi and Iniesta and bring on Seydou Keita and the electric Cristian Tello. Our young winger was only on for about a minute when Cesc lobbed another excellent pass into space and Tello sprinted in from the left before beating Leno with a cool finish inside the far post.
Barça were rampant now and the Bayer defence didn’t know what to do. In the 58th minute Messi played a one-two with Cesc and despite two defenders being in the way Messi showed his ability to sniff out a goal pouncing on Leno’s slip to score his fourth and Barça’s fifth. Four minutes later Alves led the charge using Messi as a decoy to the right before finding Tello in acres of space on the left and Tello’s shot slipped under the goalkeeper and in. Ten minutes on the pitch and two goals from the youngster, Guardiola responded by throwing on 19-year-old Marc Muniesa at left back and Camp Nou responded by chanting Guardiola’s name.
Keita might have scored the seventh but he couldn’t quite get to Pedro’s cross, and then a couple of minutes later his header went just wide. It had to be Messi who scored his fifth of an incredible evening firing in from 25 yards after Keita knocked back Cesc’s forward pass. With the clock on 89.59 Leverkusen scored a consolation with a fine curler from Bellarabi.
This really was the most amazing performance from Messi. Just last week he scored his first hat-trick for Argentina, then this. Whether he was especially keen today due to his enforced break due to suspension against Sporting I really couldn’t say, but it really does make you wonder just how much more Messi can do. I have no intention of starting on statistics but we all know how close he is at the tender age of 24 to breaking Cesar’s record of 235 goals for Barça.
However brilliant Messi was, tonight was not just about him. Tello demonstrated that he can leave defenders for dead with his speed and he has a very good eye for a goal despite missing out on his hat-trick near the end, and I was also very impressed with Marc Muniesa who didn’t put a foot wrong in a composed half an hour at left back. Mascherano was a monster at the back again while Fabregas also had a very good game putting in several excellent passes. Barça have now reached the Champions League quarter finals in the last five seasons. If the team, and in particular Leo Messi, continue like this there will not be anybody in Europe or anywhere who can stop us lifting our fifth Champions League in Munich in May.
Barça: Valdés 7; Alves 7, Piqué 7, Mascherano 8, Adriano 7 (Muniesa m63, 7.5); Xavi 8 (Keita m53, 7), Busquets 7, Fabregas 9; Pedro 6, Messi 10, Iniesta 7.5 (Tello m53, 7.5).
Bayer: Leno, Castro, Schwaab, Toprak, Kadlec; Renato Augusto (Oczipka m67), Rolfes, Reinartz, Bender (Schurrle m56); Kiessling, Derdiyok (Bellarabi m56).
Goals: m25 Messi 1-0, m43 Messi 2-0, m50 Messi 3-0, m55 Tello 4-0, m58 Messi 5-0, m62 Tello 6-0, m84 Messi 7-0, m90 Bellarabi 7-1
No Barça yellow cards.