Barcelona finish off Chelsea to reach quarters

Lionel Messi celebrates his goal against Chelsea Lionel Messi celebrates his goal against Chelsea

Lionel Messi scored his 100th Champions League goal as Barcelona advanced to the quarter-finals after beating Chelsea 3-0 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.

The sides were locked at 1-1 after Messi’s equaliser in the first leg of the last-16 tie at Stamford Bridge and Antonio Conte’s men held their own for long periods once again, only to be undermined by uncharacteristic defensive errors.

Messi scored the earliest goal of his professional career in the third minute, with Ousmane Dembele opening his Barcelona account in style to hamper an encouraging Chelsea response.

Thibaut Courtois was tamely beaten in the first instance and Barca’s ruthless qualities on the break were in full view as Dembele clattered a shot into the top corner while Messi secured his latest landmark after the hour.

Chelsea’s attention must now turn to scrapping for a top-four place in the Premier League and a face-saving tilt at the FA Cup, while Conte’s uncertainty as boss of the London club will continue after their European exit.

By contrast, opposite number Ernesto Valverde has gone from seemingly managing a damage-control operation at the start of the campaign to being on course for a sensational treble.

The hosts rumbled straight into their familiar passing rhythm, pushing and shifting Chelsea whichever way they desired from kick-off, and the breakthrough came after a mere 128 seconds.

Messi began one of his trademark dribbles towards the right edge of the Chelsea area and, even though the angle was against him when Luis Suarez sent the ball back in his direction, the Argentine ace took advantage of Courtois’ open legs with a right footed shot.

Chelsea’s response was encouraging, with Eden Hazard sparkling, but ex-Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas left his team-mates with a mountain to climb.

There was much for Messi to do when he pickpocketed Fabregas on the halfway line, but he glided past a wild challenge from Andreas Christensen and beat a backpedaling Cesar Azpilicueta.

Once in the area, Messi picked out Dembele, who seemed to put every ounce of frustration from his injury-ravaged season into a vicious, rising right-footed finish.

Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen repelled Marcos Alonso’s strike from Willian’s cutback in the 37th minute and, after N’Golo Kante bustled into the box with the second ball, Fabregas got in the way and his team-mate slashed wide.

Alonso then struck the outside of the post with a superb free-kick on the 45th minute, ensuring the half started and finished with frustration for the reigning Premier League champions.

Courtois continued to have a howler by passing straight to Suarez, but he at least stood firm to keep out the resulting shot.

Conte’s touchline fury reached new levels in the 50th minute when Alonso tumbled in the box under clumsy pressure from Gerard Pique, but no penalty was given.

Pique halted Alonso by indisputably legal means after the hour passed, launching a sliding block as the marauding wing-back fired goalwards.

Alonso was the standout performer of a tireless Chelsea performance, but their efforts were undermined as they surrendered possession again in the 63rd minute.

Suarez then tore at the away defence and fed Messi, who eased around Azpilicueta and once again nutmegged Courtois at his near post.

The Belgian goalkeeper at least kept out a Paulinho header five minutes from time before the crossbar denied Antonio Rudiger a consolation goal that the visitors deserved.

Key Opta facts:

– Lionel Messi has scored 100 Champions League goals in just 123 appearances, 14 games fewer than it took Cristiano Ronaldo (137) to reach the milestone.
– After failing to score in his first 10 Champions League appearances against English teams, Lionel Messi has since netted 20 goals in his last 18 games.
– Messi’s opener was the fastest goal that he has scored in his club and international career (02:08).
– Barcelona have only lost four of their 40 Champions League knockout games at home (W26 D10), with Liverpool the only English team to secure a victory there (2-1 in February 2007).
– Chelsea managed 14 shots in this match, six more than Barcelona, although the Blues only landed three on target.

Photo: EPA/ENRIC FONTCUBERTA

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