Saturday 25 November 2017

Messi's genius sees Barca ease past Stuttgart

Barcelona 4
Stuttgart 0
(Barcelona win 5-1 on agg)

Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring the first of his two goals in Barcelona's 4-0 victory over Stuttgart at the Nou Camp last night Photo: Getty Images
Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring the first of his two goals in Barcelona's 4-0 victory over Stuttgart at the Nou Camp last night Photo: Getty Images

Jamie Holland

Lionel Messi staged another master class at the Nou Camp last night to power holders Barcelona into the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

Messi struck a brilliant opener after just 12 minutes to put Barca on track, and then played a key role as Pedro Rodriguez made it 2-0 soon after as the Catalan giants built a 3-1 aggregate lead.

Messi added a third on the hour mark to take his tally to eight goals in the last four games, before Bojan Krkic completed the romp late on as Barca became Spain's only representative to make it into the last eight.

Real Madrid, whose Bernabeu stadium will stage this year's final, and Sevilla were both dumped out in the last week while Atletico Madrid bade farewell to the competition in the group stages.

Barca coach Pep Guardiola opted to start Thierry Henry as centre-forward instead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Frenchman was the home side's biggest threat early on, bringing a save out of Jens Lehmann in the second minute and then shooting wide not long after.

It was Messi who took centre stage after that, though. Fresh from his stunning treble in Sunday's 3-0 win over Valencia -- his second hat-trick in 2010 already -- the Argentinian broke the deadlock with a superb finish.

Yaya Toure fed the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year near the halfway line and the diminutive playmaker was allowed to venture unchallenged to the edge of the Stuttgart area before unleashing an unstoppable shot that flew into the top corner.

Messi then turned provider 10 minutes later as Barca doubled their lead. His brilliant pass inside the Stuttgart right-back was latched onto by Toure, and his first-time pass inside was slotted home by Pedro.

Those two early strikes put Barca in total control and with Stuttgart creating little to trouble Victor Valdes and his defence, Guardiola's sextuple winners went into the half-time interval knowing only a huge reversal of fortunes in the second half would deny them a place in the next round.

The script did not change at all though, with Messi again featuring heavily. He set up Toure for a low shot that fizzed just wide in the 55th minute before then extending Barca's lead five minutes later.

Pedro's pass back to the edge of area was cleverly flicked into Messi's path by Dani Alves, and the 22-year-old spun Timo Gebhart and drilled another left-footed shot past Lehmann from 20 yards out.

That was Messi's fourth Champions League goal of the season and took his tally to 31 in all competitions and eight in his last four games.

It ended any doubt about which team would be part of tomorrow's draw, and the only question was how many more goals Barca would add against a Stuttgart side who have taken just one point from their last two Bundesliga games and need a tremendous end to the season if they are to get back into the Champions League again.

Messi had two chances to net his hat-trick, being denied by a superb Lehmann save and then dinking the ball wide with only the veteran goalkeeper to beat, while Andres Iniesta also went close.

Barca did manage to get one more goal though as substitutes Ibrahimovic and Bojan combined in the 89th minute for the latter to slide home a low shot from outside the area.

  • In last night's other game, Bordeaux survived a late Olympiakos comeback to progress to the quarter-finals as both sides were reduced to 10-men.

Yoann Gourcuff whipped an angled free-kick into the top corner after only four minutes to give Bordeaux the lead. Olympiakos had Matt Derbyshire sent off, while Bordeaux's Alou Diarra was also dismissed, both for two yellow cards.

Konstantinos Mitroglou's fierce strike put the Greek side back in the tie, but Marouane Chamakh's header sealed a 2-1 win on the night and a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Irish Independent

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