Saturday 23 September 2017

Barcelona reborn after a 'perfect' night in Nou Camp

Ian Chadband

As Barcelona bathed in the glow of what was being hailed here as one of the most exhilarating nights in the club's garlanded recent past, Lionel Messi spelt out how the Champions League comeback triumph against AC Milan has enabled them to rediscover their mojo at the worst possible time for the rest of Europe's elite.

After having nothing to declare but his genius during the 4-0 annihilation of the Italians at the Nou Camp, Messi explained how he felt this had been the night when the team had rediscovered themselves as they sought to drive towards a second European Cup triumph at Wembley in three seasons.

"Perhaps in the last few matches we've lost a little of our form. We knew, however, that to go through all we really needed was to get back to being ourselves," said the Argentinian (right), whose stupendous performance – decorated with two goals – did most to overturn Milan's 2-0 first-leg advantage.

"The crucial thing was to re-establish our way of playing. We needed a night like that. Everything came off perfectly.

"This is the kind of performance we've been producing for years and this is the Barca that we and our fans want to see every game."

Even AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri couldn't argue that the Catalan giants were worthy of their place in the quarter-finals.

"Barcelona is the best team in the world," he said after his team's first four-goal loss since 2010.

"Barcelona's pressure in the first half was lethal. They played a beautiful and fast-paced brand of football.

"They deserved to go through after playing the perfect game. Just because they had lost two or three matches doesn't mean they had lost their potential."

Any of their potential quarter-final opponents will be desperate to avoid them when the draw is made in Nyon tomorrow.

For though Jordi Roura, their caretaker coach, is playing down the idea that they must be tournament favourites again after the victory which is already enshrined here as 'La Remontada!' – The Comeback – the widespread feeling is that Barca's stars are realigning at the most propitious time.

For the win was accompanied by the even more uplifting news that coach Tito Vilanova, who has been fighting throat cancer at a clinic in New York, will return to work on March 25, the week before the first leg of the quarter-finals.

Roura, who is contact with him daily, reported how thrilled Vilanova was by the Milan result.

As he doubtless also would have been with the gamble on David Villa to lead the line, which saw him rewarded with the critical third goal and an excellent all-round performance from the rejuvenated Spanish forward

"It's just what all of us around the club needed after some difficult weeks," said Villa, picking up on the theme of the team wanting to give Vilanova the perfect pick-me-up.

Roura sounded aggrieved on behalf of his players, feeling that they had not in the first place deserved the "excessive, out of order criticism" which had followed the two recent Clasico defeats and the insipid first-leg reverse at the San Siro.

Yet Sergio Busquets, quite outstanding on Tuesday, insisted: "We didn't do it because we wanted to silence the critics. We did for ourselves.

"Most of us are locals and so it's especially intense for us. You have a bad time when you lose, so days like these have done a lot of good for our confidence."

Indeed, the old confident snap and strut is back after what Andres Iniesta called "one of the most complete games we've played" and the fans were even enjoying the idea of divine intervention being at work, what with the splendid revelation that Barca always win 4-0 when they play during a papal conclave!

Nobody here would be the least surprised if fate dealt them two more Clasico dates in the quarter-finals next month.

Roura just shrugged: "If we draw Real Madrid, then we will play Real Madrid.

"With the draw, whatever will be will be."

And, naturally, we can presume they're going to 'Wem-ber-ley'. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport