Barcelona 3–0 Chelsea: Messi century, Iniesta and Dembele pitch in
The signs were ominous for Chelsea. They'd already shot themselves in the foot by conceding late in the first leg at Stamford Bridge. Antonio Conte could no longer park the bus. An away goal surrendered meant his Blues had to score against the Catalans. Ernesto Valverde's side held the ace.
Inside three minutes, his squad revealed their intent. The Blues were yet to string a couple passes together when their hosts opened the floodgates. Barca's high press was merciless. Two balls won. Two shots taken. The visitors were two goals down inside 20 minutes. Everest was a molehill compared to the mountain Chelsea now had to climb.
Here are three players who barred their way.
Even against the best of opponents, Messi is the trickiest of customers. Before the first leg at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea was the team who had shut the Argentine genius down most often. He had gone eight games without a goal against the Premier League side. He broke his duck in London.
Home at the Camp Nou for the second leg, he put to rest any further thought Chelsea was still his bogey team. It took him less than three minutes to open the scoring, racing to the byline and smashing home the fastest goal of his Champions League career, through the legs of a bemused Thibaut Courtois.
Then, Ousmane Dembele had the living legend to thank for his strike. Messi's cutback afforded the youngster time and space to blast home the Blaugrana’s second.
On 99 Champions League goals thanks to the opener, the Argentine didn't have to wait long for his century. On 63 minutes, he exploited another Chelsea error, running to the byline again, this time to Courtois' right and blasting it through the flustered Belgian once more. If Chelsea had any fight left, that strike snuffed it out like a candle in a hurricane.
With two goals and an assist, the contest was essentially Lionel Messi vs Chelsea. That was too much a mismatch for the Premier League Champions.
The former Dortmund attacker finished off a brilliant counterattack like a seasoned Barca forward. Courtois got his right hand to it but could not deflect it away from goal. It was a special occasion for the 20-year-old. He hadn’t scored a goal for the Catalans since his mega-money move from Germany. Needing to show his worth after a rash of injuries, there was no better time than immediately to prove himself.
In addition to the finish, the Frenchman’s all-around play was outstanding. He kept Chelsea on their toes and contributed a few important blocks and tackles when the Blues managed to get forward. It was exactly the performance the manager wished to see from the youngster. Ernesto Valverde's faith was dutifully rewarded.
When the fourth official lifted up the board displaying his number in red, Dembele was walked off the pitch by a roaring ovation.
In an increasingly young man's game, it's inspiring to watch a 33-year-old control a game from midfield with so much poise against opponents who are much faster, stronger, and younger. The key, of course, is they are not smarter. The pint-sized Spaniard was difficult for Chelsea to contain. His runs and passes were all too classy. Even Cesc Fabregas who had practised every day with him for three seasons had no idea what to do.
When Iniesta finally made way for Paulinho, Barca’s progress to the next stage had already been rubber-stamped. The ageless midfielder took his bow, happy to let the bigger, stronger man keep the sheet from being soiled.