Football

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde: Lionel Messi calmed our nerves

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde praised Lionel Messi for settling his side down after a nervy start against Manchester United and inspiring the Catalan side to a 3-0 victory to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.

Marcus Rashford struck the crossbar for the visitors in the second minute at the Nou Camp, but Messi scored twice in four minutes later in the first half to put Barca at ease.

Philippe Coutinho's stunning strike completed a dominant 4-0 aggregate victory.

"Messi always gets us out of trouble and we're not going to apologise for having him," said Valverde.

"Leo always turns up in the important games, not just in the big moments but also throughout the whole game. He is always capable of scoring, but he also drives the team's attack."

Valverde said his side were relieved to finally clear the quarter-final barrier after three successive exits in the last eight, particularly after last season's 3-0 second-leg defeat by AS Roma after winning the first leg 4-1.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer meanwhile backed Barca to conquer the continent again.

"With the quality they've got, the front three they've got, and players they can bring on like (Ousmane) Dembele and Malcom, I wouldn't bet against them," Solskjaer said.

"They would be favourites to win the whole tournament."

Messi, however, has warned that they must get off to a better start. He said: "We came out cold and looked nervous in the first five minutes... We cannot come out like that in a Champions League match because we have the experience of Rome last season and it could (have) made qualifying difficult. Five bad minutes can knock you out." - REUTERS, AFP

Football