Lionel Messi seals Barcelona’s defeat of Chelsea with double dose of sorcery -


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Thursday, 15 March 2018

Lionel Messi seals Barcelona’s defeat of Chelsea with double dose of sorcery

Lionel Messi celebrates putting Barcelona on the road to victory against Chelsea with his quickest ever goal in professional football. Photograph: Manu Fernandez/AP

They began the night by unveiling a huge banner – “God Save the King” – during the singing of El Cant del Barça in honour of the man they regard here as football royalty. Lionel Messi certainly did not let anyone down and, by the time he had finished with Chelsea, it was difficult not to think far too much had been made of that statistic about him failing to score in his first eight matches against these opponents.

Messi’s ninth and 10th appearances against the team from Stamford Bridge have buried that one now Barcelona have safely navigated a route into the quarter-finals and Chelsea are left to consider that no side at this level can expect to get away with defending this generously. Messi contributed three‑quarters of Barcelona’s goals over the two legs. He is a genius, as everyone knows, but Chelsea played an obliging role when the mistakes of Thibaut Courtois and assorted colleagues are totted up.

Antonio Conte’s team hit the woodwork twice, created a number of reasonable chances and were convinced, at 2-0, that they should have been awarded a penalty. The scoreline might look emphatic but Conte was not exaggerating when he said his team had played well for long spells. Willian, in particular, was a dangerous opponent. Eden Hazard looked determined to make an impact and it was unusual to see an away side have so much of the ball in advanced positions at the Camp Nou.

Ultimately, though, that did not mean a huge amount when Chelsea made so many decisive mistakes, each leading to a goal, at key points of the match, just as they had done in the first leg. At Stamford Bridge, it was Andreas Christensen’s error that dramatically changed the complexion of the tie. Now it is Courtois who will have to accept a lot of the blame after some poor goalkeeping for the first goal and, to a lesser extent, the third one, too. Not even Messi would try a nutmeg from 12 yards. Yet Chelsea’s goalkeeper turned the first shot of the night into exactly that – then allowed another one in between his legs in the second half.

Courtois chose a bad night to play below his usual standards and, in the process, Chelsea found themselves behind after only two minutes. This was Messi’s 601st career goal, the quickest of the lot – timed at 127 seconds – and it came so early only two of the Chelsea players had actually touched the ball. Antonio Rudiger was one and the second was Marcos Alonso. Unfortunately for Alonso, he inadvertently gave it to Luis Suárez. Messi was free and, for a player whose left foot seems to be on first-name terms with the ball, the Argentinian showed he can generate a fair bit of power with his right one, too.

Chelsea’s response to the early setback must have been quite encouraging for the supporters peering down from the away end in the most vertiginous part of the stadium. All the time, however, the away side continued to undermine themselves with costly individual errors. After 19 minutes a shot from 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 desperate sliding challenge, dinked the ball past César Azpilicueta, then ran round the other side to collect it and delivered the killer pass, left to right, with a vision and finesse that took out five players all at once. Dembélé took a touch to steady himself and his shot was still rising as it flew into the top corner.

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Again, Chelsea responded like a team who thought a feat of escapology was still on. Alonso came the closest for the visitors in the first half with a free-kick that skimmed off the post but there was also the moment when N’Golo Kanté ran behind the home defence only for Fàbregas, his own team-mate, to get in his way. Fàbregas would surely have produced a better finish but, equally, his reluctance to move to the side might be the very reason Kanté slashed the shot wide. Between them, they made a pig’s ear of it – when a goal at that stage would have made the rest of the night very interesting.

Instead, Chelsea’s hopes of an improbable comeback were probably lost when the Slovenian referee gave Gerard Piqué the benefit of the doubt for the challenge that saw Alonso going down inside the penalty area early in the second half and, in the final exchanges, it was largely an irrelevance when Rudiger headed against the crossbar.

Barça’s third goal had arrived in the 64th minute and, for that one, Chelsea 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 low, drilled shot caught out Courtois again.

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