In a highly anticipated match up, in a Champions League season filled with upsets, Barcelona dug deep and disposed of a tough Lyon side. While the final score didn’t show the full picture, the Catalans fully deserved to win a place in the Quarter-Final. Naturally, led by Lionel Messi who scored twice and added two assists, the Blaugrana would also get goals from Philippe Coutinho, Gerard Pique and Ousmane Dembele. The goal for Lyon would come from Lucas Tousart early in the second half, but in the end Barcelona would run away with it.
Ernesto Valverde wasn’t going to leave anything to chance, sending out his best available XI. The only real question coming into the game was on the left wing where usual starter Dembele was struggling with a hamstring injury and it was deemed he wasn’t ready for the full 90 minutes. In his place Coutinho made the start.
Barcelona wasted no time and quickly pinned Lyon deep and needed just a couple minutes to threaten for the first time. Just two minutes in Coutinho was sent down the left wing by Messi before the Brazilian tried to find Luis Suarez on the other side, but Anthony Lopes left his line to collect the cross. Just moments later Messi fired from the edge of the area and Lopes had to make his first save, and a brilliant one at that.
The Catalans continued to pile on the pressure, but Lyon defense was holding on. They had plenty of problems with the Barcelona front three, as well as the likes of Arthur and Jordi Alba, but the game remained scoreless. Lyon came into Barcelona with a fairly simple game-plan – sit deep and absorb all the pressure without allowing a goal and try to score on the rare counter-attack. The visitors looked dangerous on those rare counters, but their defense often didn’t look very sure-footed, and in the 14th minute Lopes again had to leave his line to punch the ball away before Messi could fully control the ball after a lovely through pass.
The suspect defense was tested again in the 17th minute as Messi and Suarez played a lovely one-two down the left side before Jason Denayer brought down Suarez inside the area for a penalty kick. A quick VAR review was undertaken but the penalty was upheld. Messi stepped up and very calmly scored with a classy panenka kick that left Lopes helpless.
After the restart Lyon quickly threatened, catching Barcelona’s back-four off guard. The defense was scrambling on a three-on-three attack and Moussa Dembélé was left with a very good look on goal from the edge of the area, but Clement Lenglet recovered just in time to redirect the ball just enough to send it wide.
Scary moments ensued on the very next attack on the other end as Gerard Pique found Coutinho with a stunning diagonal pass into the danger area where the Brazilian and Lopes collided heavily, leaving the goalkeeper in pain, needing medical attention after a blow to the head. Lopes wasn’t looking quite all there and the medical staff appeared to have been adamant that he should’ve been substituted, but the Portuguese netminder was determined to stay in goal.
After the long stoppage, play resumed and Lopes quickly turned the ball over, but Barcelona were unable to make Lyon pay. Moments later Barcelona had another chance, created and taken by Suarez with a lovely move on the left side of the area, but his curling effort was well saved by Lopes. The rebound fell to Rakitić, but the Croatian’s volley whistled high.
But Barcelona’s pressure was relentless and in the 31st minute the Catalans doubled their lead. The key pass came from midfield maestro Arthur who found Suarez on the edge with a fabulous pass. The Uruguayan’s first touch was just as fantastic as he made quick work of the defender with only his first touch. Facing a one-on-one with Lopes, Suarez made the unselfish play to square the ball into the middle where Coutinho was left unguarded and simply sent the ball into the empty net.
Lyon’s coaching staff finally pulled the trigger on a goalkeeper change shortly thereafter. While the second goal wasn’t Lopes’ fault, it was evident that he was struggling on the pitch. He was replaced by Mathieu Gorgelin, making his Champions League debut. In the 38th minute Barcelona almost added a third, after some lax defending from the visitors, but Suarez’s low shot just missed the far post. Two minutes later Sergio Busquets found Messi on the right wing, but the debutant for Lyon made a great save on Messi’s tough-angle try.
In the final moments of regulation of the first half Lyon for the first time managed to pin Barcelona deep, but despite some uncharacteristic Barcelona turnovers and a couple promising Lyon attacks, Marc-Andre ter Stegen went untested. Six minutes were added on to the first half, most of it due to Lopes’ injury. While the entire first half was very entertaining, the added time brought plenty of broken play and no chances before referee Szymon Marciniak whistled for halftime.
After the restart, Barcelona came storming out of the gate, and after less than two minutes created their first excellent scoring chance. Needing more offense in the second half, Lyon stepped higher up the pitch and Barcelona found more space behind the back-line and in the 47th minute Suarez played Arthur behind the line. Arthur was harassed and pulled all the way into the area, but managed to lay the ball off to Messi on his right who chipped the ball over the goalkeeper, but before it could cross the goal-line it was cleared away by Marçal.
Despite the early excitement and a fast paced tempo, the next chance didn’t come until the 55th minute when Barcelona somehow wasted a three-on-one counter-attack. From the ensuing corner kick Lyon would threaten on the counter, but Nabil Fekir’s 20-yard drive missed wide. In the 58th minute Lyon pressure finally paid off as Tousart found the back of the net. Replays showed there was a clear and evident foul on Clement Lenglet, but VAR was only reviewing a potential offside by Tanguy Ndombele and the goal was upheld.
Lyon were flying high after the goal and Barcelona struggled in possession. The visitors were pushing and created a half chance in the 66th minute, but Memphis Depay couldn’t get a good shot off. Oftentimes Barcelona couldn’t get the ball out of their half, but in the 68th minute the Catalans combined excellently deep inside Lyon’s third, but even though Coutinho was sent through, by the time the Brazilian rounded the keeper he had no angle to take the shot. A deep turnover by Lyon the very next minute also went unpunished.
The first substitution of the second half came in the 70th when Dembele replaced Coutinho. With the extra space allowed by Lyon and Dembele’s speed it was a widely expected sub considering the young Frenchman was deemed fit enough to make the bench. Dembele was immediately involved in Barcelona’s first attack, but Messi turned the ball over from which Lyon threatened as well, but Jordi Alba made a crucial interception.
Both managers made personnel changes in the 73rd minute. First Depay made way for Bertrand Traoré while the impeccable Arthur was replaced by Arturo Vidal. Four minutes later Lyon was forced into another substitution as Ferland Mendy also picked up an injury. He was replaced by Maxwel Cornet, signaling an even more offensive formation. But before Cornet could even settle into the game, Rakitić found the Messi running down the middle. On the edge of the area the Argentine brilliantly sent both Marcelo and Denayer the wrong way before firing a right-footed shot on goal. Gorgelin managed to get his fingertips on the shot, but the ball retained enough momentum to cross the goal-line.
Lyon weren’t giving up though and returned to the offensive, quickly winning a corner kick. But from the corner it would be Barcelona who would score. Alba sent a long ball forward to start the play, but the key moment came inside Lyon’s penalty area where Messi somehow noticed Pique sprinting down the opposite side and found him with a perfect assist. For his full-pitch sprint Pique was rewarded with a tap-in goal and Barcelona put the game out of reach.
Lyon continued to attack, but it was all in vain. Barcelona were seemingly defending with ease and whenever the Catalans attacked a goal was always in the air and in the 86th minute they added another. Messi led the home side on the counter attack yet again before finding Dembele on the left side who first-timed the ball through the legs of Gorgelin for the fifth marker of the night. The remaining time would be a mere formality, as would the two minutes of added time as Barcelona would book a ticket for the Quarter-Final. Who Barcelona will face there will be determined on Friday, March 15. Before the upcoming international break Barcelona only have one match left, on Sunday against the always tricky Real Betis, especially when playing at the Benito Villamarín.