Barca in quarters with emphatic win over Chelsea
Barcelona : Barcelona hailed Lionel Messi as “The King” as he handed Chelsea the royal punishment by scoring twice to reach 100 Champions League goals and end their quarter-final hopes.
After unfurling a banner showing the words “God Save The King” before kick-off on Wednesday, Barca’s fans were celebrating after just 129 seconds at the Camp Nou as Messi found the net before Chelsea had even made a pass.
He then teed up Ousmane Dembele to double Barca’s lead in the second-leg of the last-16 clash before registering a century of Champions League goals on his 123rd appearance to complete a 3-0 victory, 4-1 on aggregate.
Messi becomes only the second player to reach the milestone in Europe’s premier tournament, following Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 117 goals in 152 games.
“He knows in certain moments the stars have to come out,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.
“We enjoy him. We’re lucky enough to be seeing something that will go down in history.”
By the end, the Argentinian’s scintillating breakaway in the build-up to Dembele’s first Barcelona goal had become little more than a footnote to what was another Messi masterclass.
It also caps a remarkable five days for the 30-year-old, who sat out Saturday’s La Liga win over Malaga to attend to the birth of his third child.
Chelsea, in touch after the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge, were therefore unfortunate enough to encounter the striker fresh, free and at his frighteningly brilliant best.
At the finish, Conte left the field with his arm around the forward, perhaps with nothing to add but congratulations.
“I think when you have the opportunity to make great compliment to Messi, I think it’s right,” Conte added. “It’s right to recognise a super, super, super top player.”
Conte’s team had chances, particularly in the first half, but the sense was once Barcelona were in front they were content to sit back and counter.
Chelsea hit the woodwork twice and claimed for a penalty when Alonso was brought down by Gerard Pique.
“If you watch the game you can see the final result is unfair,” Conte said.
“Over the two legs we hit the post four times. This is very strange.”
With Manchester United dumped out by Sevilla and Tottenham outmanoeuvred by Juventus, Chelsea’s exit means for all the talk of a Premier League resurgence, Liverpool and Manchester City are its only two representatives in the quarter-finals.
Spain have three, after Real saw off the challenge of Paris Saint-Germain.
Andres Iniesta shook off a hamstring strain to start while Dembele was a surprise inclusion, preferred to Paulinho and rewarded for his excellent display against Malaga.
Conte, meanwhile, plumped for Olivier Giroud up front ahead of both Alvaro Morata, who was on the bench, and Eden Hazard, who was granted his wish to play deeper in attacking midfield.
Within three minutes, however, Chelsea’s plan to frustrate was spoiled. Messi started the move and finished it, with Dembele, Luis Suarez and a deflection off Alonso, helping him find the space to fire through the legs of Thibaut Courtois for the fastest goal of his career.
Dembele’s second came after Cesc Fabregas failed to secure possession in mid-field and Messi was away, skipping past a desperate lunge from Andreas Christensen, before taking the whole stadium by surprise by squaring to the back post. Dembele took one touch and slammed the ball into the top corner.
Any hopes Chelsea had of a comeback were extinguishe shortly after the hour-mark. Suarez raced through mid-field but looked to have hit a wall on the edge of Chelsea’s box.
Messi took over, tearing past the rooted Moses and banging the ball, again through the legs of Courtois, into the net.