Watch out, Messi's magic is back
ROUND OF 16, SECOND LEG
(Ivan Rakitic 31)
MAN CITY 0
- Barcelona win 3-1 on aggregate
The sight of James Milner, nutmegged and left sitting on his bum, summed up the magnificence of one man.
Even by Lionel Messi's high standards, this was pure poetry.
In a glorious performance yesterday morning (Singapore time), the Argentinian mesmerised opponents and spectators alike through a combination of supremacy and football sorcery.
The Nou Camp faithful was held spellbound. Manchester City were humiliated. And Messi once more returned to football's vertex.
Barcelona strolled into the Champions League's last eight with all guns blazing. Messi entered the scene last, on a white stallion, with a smoking barrel in hand.
Barcelona's superiority in the 1-0 win (3-1 on aggregate) over City wasn't reflected on the scoreboard.
The display, though, surely sent shudders up rivals' spines.
City's players were so rattled and confused by the hosts' passing and movement that they couldn't stop colliding into one another.
They were so stretched by Barcelona's brilliance that they were gasping for air towards the end.
One wonders how Manuel Pellegrini's men are going to recover from such a psychological trauma.
Barcelona have set the benchmark for this season's Champions League.
With Messi in such form at this stage of the season, they are clearly the team to beat.
Pellegrini, in comparing the Catalan club with competition favourites Bayern Munich, said: "Barca always have the added bonus of having Messi."
If not for Joe Hart's phenomenal form in City's goal, the score might have read 8-0 instead.
Messi fired the most shots (eight), completed the most passes (68), created the most chances (five) and accomplished the most dribbles (11).
He induced such fear and panic in the City penalty box that the defending champions of the English Premier League were made to look like novices.
And yet, not long ago, it appeared the player was a victim of fame that came too early.
Losing out to Cristiano Ronaldo in two consecutive Fifa Ballon d'Or had some wondering if the 27-year-old was on the wane.
That notion sounds silly now.
This season, he has chalked up eight goals and three assists from eight Champions League appearances, and 32 goals and 14 assists in the La Liga.
Messi himself admitted that he had "gone from being a disaster to being in the best form of my career".
His teammate Ivan Rakitic, scorer of the game's solitary goal which Messi set up, went even further, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the away fans.
"I think even the City players probably enjoyed watching Messi tonight," he said.
The forward's sizzling form is lifting his team closer and closer to the coveted Treble.
Seventeen wins in their last 18 matches in all competitions have put them in the final of the Copa del Rey, the quarter-finals of the Champions League, and also given them a one-point lead at the top of the Spanish La Liga.
Barcelona have clicked into top gear. Messi looks unstoppable.
If a game of football can ever be won by one man alone, it's the Messi-cian.
Just ask Milner.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE LAST 8
*Quarter-final draw in Nyon, Switzerland, at 7pm today.
- Atletico Madridl Barcelonal Bayern Munichl Juventusl Monacol Paris St Germainl Portol Real Madrid
Manchester down, Madrid next
Are you watching, Real Madrid?
Lionel Messi may not have scored as Barcelona defeated Manchester City yesterday morning (Singapore time) to secure their Champions League quarter-final spot with a 3-1 aggregate, but the Argentinian sent an ominous warning to Real ahead of the El Clasico on Monday morning (Singapore time).
There was no doubt the 27-year-old was back to his brilliant best as he tormented City with his trickery and vision and set up Ivan Rakitic for the only goal of the game.
It was the heroics of Joe Hart in the City goal that prevented Messi from scoring a hat-trick.
His devastating display comes at the right time as Barca host Real in the Nou Camp on Monday morning in a clash which could decide the destination of the La Liga title.
Barca lead their eternal rivals by one point in the league table and a win will take them four points clear.
The dark clouds that have hovered over Barca and Messi after the Catalan giants lost to Real Sociedad on Jan 3 have been replaced by an air of confidence.
Luis Enrique's side are on a run of 17 victories from their last 18 games and Messi now leads Real's Cristiano Ronaldo in this season's scoring charts with 32 league goals.
"I feel good, I am enjoying the moment in which I am and I am enjoying the way the team are playing," said Messi.
"Not so long ago, people were saying I was a disaster but, when we kicked off the (new) year, we did so in another way, with new hope and desire.
"We have had a few ups and downs, which is normal, but we are back to a great level of form."
Real's recent form has been questioned, with Ronaldo and Gareth Bale especially under the spotlight, but Messi insisted his side will approach the Clasico "with a lot of respect to Madrid".
He said: "They are a great team and we have to respect them more than ever. This is when they try to be at their strongest, but we'll try and play our game and beat them."
While Messi has been the talisman, Luis Suarez and Neymar are also looking menacing in a potent three-pronged attack.
"We are playing well, but we cannot get carried away because there is a long way to go," said Messi.
"We have some big games... first against Madrid and then there are the quarter-finals (of the Champions League) where we will face another tough team."
On Real's recent poor form, Messi added: "When Madrid are in this situation, it is when they are most dangerous.
"They have great players. We will go out to play our football and look to win but, at the same time, we need to be wary of them as much as ever."
- Wire Services.
I feel good, I am enjoying the moment in which I am and I am enjoying the way the team are playing
— Lionel Messi
WHAT THEY SAY
>Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini:
When Messi gets the ball, he just gets away from all the players. It creates a lot of difficulty for our players, the ball is stuck to his foot.
>Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano:
With everyone else, football controls us, but he controls the game... He does it with a dominance I haven't seen in the 30 years I've lived.
>Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola:
This was very nice. Barca played well and created a lot of chances. It's a luxury to watch Messi.
>Ex-Arsenal and Barca forward Thierry Henry:
He put himself on a level where it's impossible for me to hear people doubting this man. What he has done, we should all enjoy the guy, like we did tonight. It is a pleasure.
Lionel Messi shoots from a tight angle following a brilliant move involving Neymar and Andres Iniesta, but City goalkeeper Joe Hart saves.
Messi nutmegs Fernandinho, to the delight of the home fans.
Messi races towards the City defence, and David Silva makes a desperate lunge at him from behind and earns a yellow card.
GOAL! Messi curls the ball to Ivan Rakitic, who lobs it over Hart.
Messi nutmegs Milner on the sideline.
Messi's through, but Hart forces him out of play.
Messi tries to take the ball past Hart, but the England goalkeeper is in superb form.
Messi shoots from close range, but Hart saves.