Lionel Messi put on a master-class, scoring five goals. Yes, that did say five. The Argentine was in sensational form, and his five goals consisted of two curled finished into the bottom corner, two trademark chips and a real poachers effort. Cristian Tello grabbed the other two goals off the bench before a late goal from Bellarabi ensured Leverkusen did not go home empty handed. With that 7-1 win, Barcelona progress into the quarter-finals of the competition winning 10-2 on aggregate, but the result is inconsequential: this match will go down in history as one of the greatest displays of finishing ever.
As expected, Pep Guardiola went for a 4-3-3 with Andres Iniesta filling in upfront and Cesc Fabregas in midfield, while Gerard Pique did start in the centre of defense. Leverkusen were high on confidence after beating Bayern Munich 2-0 at the weekend, which unfortunately would not have been enough to see them through tonight. The Germans were set up in a 4-4-2 with Stefan Kiessling and Eren Derdiyok both starting in attack as Robin Dutt looked to pull off the improbable. He knew however that it was not going to happen.
There was a warning sign before the first minute was completed as Pedro was nearly sent through on goal, but was tackled before he could get free. Barcelona were looking sharp, while Leverkusen were sitting back much like the first leg. Clearly Dutt thought that the deficit was insurmountable, but I question why they didn’t go out and at least try. Worked well for Arsenal yesterday, but I suppose it is better to lose by a couple, than by double figures. Unfortunately, Lionel Messi was going to make it double figures anyway.
You can’t say he didn’t warn them, as Cesc Fabregas lifted the ball over the top for Messi to control perfectly on his chest before unleashing a powerful volley at the near post. Leno saved that effort well, and then Messi stabbed the rebound goalwards, but Leno was equal to that as well. Pedro’s follow-up was blocked, but you could sense Messi was in the mood. Perhaps Simon Rofles sensed it too, as he received a booking for holding Leo back, around 30 yards from goal. Xavi’s resulting free-kick went just over the bar.
Xavi was taking all the set pieces, and his in-swinging delivery from the left hand side nearly found Gerard Pique unmarked, but the centre-half didn’t judge the flight of the ball correctly and missed it altogether. Then Lionel Messi decided that he wanted to score.
His run was perfectly timed, while Xavi’s lofted pass was also unequivocally brilliant. Kadlec had played the Argentine onside so when Messi controlled the ball and closed in on goal, you knew what the outcome was going to be. The only question was whether or not he would round the keeper or just chip the ball over him. Leo went for the latter and the ball nestled in the net. 25 minutes gone, and Barcelona were 1-0 ahead.
We had to wait a while for the second goal, the 42nd minute to be precise, as Andres Iniesta embarked on a direct dribble towards goal. The World Cup winner had plenty of support, and could have gone it alone, but passed off to Messi who cut inside from the right. In the process, he left three Leverkusen defenders in his wake before powering the ball into the bottom corner. Lionel Messi 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen at the half-time interval.
The second half started just as the first ended: with a Lionel Messi goal. This time Cesc Fabregas got the assist, with yet another lofted through ball, and Lionel Messi this time chipped Leno with his weaker foot to complete his hat-trick. It was an extra-ordinary finish, even by his standards. With that goal, Pep decided to make a couple of changes, with Cristian Tello making his debut in European football, replacing Andres Iniesta and Seydou Keita coming on in place of Xavi.
A minute later, Tello had a debut goal.
Once again, Cesc Fabregas was the creator, feeding Tello with an excellent pass and the 20 year-old displayed the sort of composure Fernando Torres is lacking to pass the ball into the far corner. What a finish, what a prospect. What a team. But that was not the end of it, oh, far from it. Minutes later Lionel Messi had his fourth goal after a mistake from the Leverkusen defense and Leno in goal. His failed attempt to clear/collect enabled Messi to nick in and stab in another. Sure, it was a goal-keeping error, but only Messi was going towards goal. Maybe he’s psychic? Personally, I think it goes to show that you make your own luck with work-rate and ability.
Again, it only took minutes for Barcelona to increase their lead further. Dani Alves was playing well out on the right and his deep cross found Tello in acres of space with all the time in the world to control the cross and pick his spot. Leno didn’t do himself any favours with his attempted save, but who cares? Tello got his second goal, Alves got a superb assist, and I think it’s fair to say Leno is entitled to make a mistake or two at this stage. Mercifully, the Blaugrana eased up a little, replacing Adriano with Marc Muniesa (!) so the youngster could get a run out at left-back.
However, the game wasn’t over yet, Messi had some more records to break, and by curling a shot into the corner from the deg of the area he had his fifth of the evening, and 12th of the competition. There are no words to describe him, not anymore. He is simply the best man to ever set foot on a football pitch.
Bellarabi got a late consolation goal after an excellent one-two, almost Barca-like in fact, but at the end of the day, this game will forever be remembered as the Lionel Messi show. Trouble is, I have seen him play better.
Wayin by telling us what you think was the best goal of the evening below, reckon Messi might win myself :P