Sanchez leaves Barca jumping for joy
B Leverkusen 1
Champions League - Rd 2, 1st leg
Alexis Sanchez scored either side of half-time as title holders Barcelona took a significant lead away from the BayArena last night.
The £23m summer recruit broke the deadlock just before the interval after Barca had monopolised the opening half and restored his side's lead when Michal Kadlec equalised for the resurgent hosts on 51 minutes.
After setting up the first two goals, Lionel Messi added the third late on to leave Leverkusen's hopes of a quarter-final spot hanging by a thread.
Sanchez fired Barcelona ahead in the 41st minute, slotting the ball past goalkeeper Bernd Leno and inside the left post after being put through by the World Player of the Year.
Leverkusen defender Michal Kadlec levelled in the 52nd with a header from Vedran Corluka's cross.
Sanchez was again on hand three minutes later, eluding Leverkusen defender Manuel Friedrich and rounding Leno to finish from a tight angle after Cesc Fabregas had initially sliced open the defense.
Messi, who struck the post in the 72nd, scored in the 88th after setting Dani Alves free on the right before running into the box to direct a pinpoint return from the Brazilian into the net.
It took the three-time FIFA Player of the Year's tally to seven goals, making him the Champions League's top-scorer this season.
Both sides were affected by injury going into the game. Neither Xavi Hernandez or Gerard Pique made Barcelona's team sheet, the former ruled out shortly before kickoff due to swelling in his right calf.
Michael Ballack, Sidney Sam and Eren Derdiyok were ruled out for the home side, which set out to frustrate the four-time champions from the start.
Sanchez scored with Barcelona's second real chance, following a first half in which Leverkusen displayed the industry to keep the visitors at bay that befits a team that calls itself the 'Werkself' (Factory 11).
Leverkusen defender Daniel Schwaab's crucial interception prevented Messi from scoring in the 13th from Sanchez's cross with the net wide open for a simple tap-in.
Barcelona, as expected, dominated possession though found it hard to penetrate the well-drilled defense. Adriano tried his luck from distance, but his shot sailed harmlessly wide.
Rushed passes meant Leverkusen was rarely able to threaten. Lars Bender did cause panic in the defense when he eluded two defenders to give Renato Augusto a chance in the 33rd, but Barcelona captain Carles Puyol booted the ball away.
Messi gradually began to exert more influence and he made the crucial difference when he spotted a rare gap in the Leverkusen midfield to send Sanchez through for the first goal.
He almost scored shortly afterward, shimmying through the Leverkusen defense before the interval.
Leverkusen showed more initiative after the break, and were duly rewarded when Kadlec equalised. The celebrations were short-lived, however, as Sanchez restored the visitors' advantage.
Augusto should have equalized two minutes later, Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes getting down well to save. Leno then cleared from Messi at the other end as the game opened up.
Castro was unlucky to hit the post in the 64th, and Messi did likewise shortly afterward when dancing past the defense and putting the ball through Friedrich's legs.
However, it wasn't long before he had the final say.
Independent.ie Comments Facility
INM has taken the decision to remove the commenting facility on its online platform Independent.ie to minimise the legal risk to our business that arises from Ireland's draconian libel awards system.
We continue to look forward to receiving comments through direct email contact or via social media, some of which may still be featured on the website Independent.ie