- Lionel Messi's drought vs. Chelsea is a thing of the past after his two goals and assist guided Barcelona to the Champions League quarterfinals, where the La Liga leader and Bayern Munich round out the field.
Lionel Messi scored the 99th and 100th goals of his Champions League career in a key spot, as his double helped Barcelona to a 3-0 win over Chelsea, taking his side into the quarterfinals of the competition yet again.
Chelsea had the better of a 1-1 draw in the first leg and may feel the scoreline was harsh here, but Antonio Conte’s side never looked like winning after Messi had squeezed a shot through Thibaut Courtois’s legs in the third minute.
Ousmane Dembele soundly added a second, his first goal for the club off an assist from Messi, and the Argentine's second ended any thought of a Chelsea comeback.
Bayern Munich, already 5-0 up from the first leg, made certain of its place in the quarterfinals for a seventh straight season with a 3-1 win at Besiktas. Thiago Alcantara converted a Thomas Muller cross and then Gokhan Gonul put one into his own net to make it 2-0 just after halftime. Vagner Love pulled one back for Besiktas, but Sandro Wagner restored the two-goal margin with six minutes to go to secure the 8-1 demolition.
Here are three thoughts on the day in the Champions League:
After breaking duck, Messi piles on
Lionel Messi hadn’t scored in eight previous games against Chelsea entering the first leg, but he ended that drought in clutch fashion with an equalizer at Stamford Bridge. It took him just 127 seconds Wednesday to add to his tally vs. the Blues. A fortunate ricochet saw the ball break to Luis Suarez, whose neat layoff played Messi in on goal. The angle was narrow, but he poked the ball between the legs of Courtois, who seemed to have gotten caught out of position beyond his post and was then left flat-footed. Messi was at the heart of Barcelona’s second as well, surging forward, drawing defenders to him and then squaring it for Dembele, who had time to control the ball, pick his spot and then lash in his first goal in an injury-riddled season.
Messi added his second of the night, his 34th of the season and his 100th in the Champions League, accelerating across Cesar Azplicueta and Victor Moses and then sliding another shot through Courtois’s legs from the opposite side. It was a superb goal, quick and clinical, but it did little to dispel the sense that Barcelona at the moment is, at least in comparison to the Champions League winners of 2015 and 2011, a fairly functional side enlivened by the brilliance of the Argentinian.
This Barcelona has a reputation for being more defensively resolute than some recent incarnations, and it has conceded just six times at home in the league this season. But as at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea regularly caused problems and the tie, in effect, was lost with the sloppy equalizer conceded in the first leg. And that is the problem all Barcelona’s opponents will have. It has proved itself utterly ruthless in capitalizing on mistakes.
Uncertainty ahead for Chelsea
Chelsea didn’t actually play badly at Camp Nou. Going behind so early to a goalkeeping error made a difficult task harder, and Chelsea then perhaps became over-anxious and chased the game far earlier than it need to, opening the space for the second. Yes, Barcelona had other chances, helped in part by an unusually skittish display from Courtois, but so too did Chelsea, most notably when Marcos Alonso hit the outside of the post with a free kick just before halftime and when Antonio Rudiger struck the woodwork late on.
The outcome may have been the same for Chelsea as for Manchester United the previous night, but the nature of the performance could hardly have been more different. But as with United, the season is now effectively over. Both have FA Cup ties this weekend, but for neither is that anything more than a slim consolation. United, at least, sits second in the table; Chelsea is fifth and in serious danger of failing to finish in the top four and missing out on next season’s Champions League as well.
Chelsea has won just five of its last 17 games, and with Conte almost certain to leave in the summer, there must be a chance that Roman Abramovich takes action to try to inject some life into the final couple of months of the season to end the sense of drift and try to overhaul Tottenham. He may be wealthy enough to absorb the loss of revenue of failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League, but Chelsea these days is run on a tight budget.
Timing, transfer window structure unfortunate for Besiktas
There was never much doubt that Bayern would make the last eight after it beat Besiktas 5-0 in the first leg, and it won comfortably enough in Istanbul as well, giving manager Jupp Heynckes a record 11th straight victory in the competition. Although Vagner Love capitalized on a David Alaba error to score for the Turkish champion and reduce the deficit to 2-1 on the day, the Brazilian, who was signed in January, is a very different player from the man he replaced, Cenk Tosun, who moved to Everton. This is another major problem for the Champions League.
Besiktas cannot be blamed for cashing in on its 26-year-old center forward but equally it makes the competition slightly farcical if, on the odd occasion a club from outside one of the familiar top handful of leagues makes it through, it undermines itself ahead of the knockout stage by selling a key player. In Besiktas's case, it broke up a highly effective front three that had been one of its great strengths in an impressive group stage.