Lionel Messi’s brace helped Barcelona to a 2-0 win over Arsenal as the Spanish club took a huge step on their mission to win back-to-back Champions League trophies.
Barcelona, much like the Argentine, were not at their scintillating best but produced the goods in the second-half and have a two-goal advantage ahead of the return leg at the Camp Nou on March 16.
Messi’s two away goals mean Luis Enrique’s team are huge favourites to reach the last eight and Barcelona’s boss will probably be rather happy to see his players win while not playing at their most fluent.
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It was an extra special night for Messi who, as well as taking his goal tally for the season to 29, also scored against Petr Cech for the first time after six matches in which he'd failed to beat the Czech goalkeeper.
Arsenal were expected to play in a counter-attacking style but it was their opponents who utilised the tactic best, opening the scoring in the 71st minute in a goal involving all three members of Barcelona’s famed Messi-Luis Suarez-Neymar trio.
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The Gunners’ defence completely lost track of the Brazilian, who latched onto Suarez’s pass before bearing down on goal.
With Nacho Monreal rushing over to prevent Neymar striking on goal, Messi made full use of the space made available to him and was grateful to see the winger look up and spot him unmarked inside the box.
The Argentine took one touch and lifted the ball over the flailing Cech to give Barcelona the lead in clinical style.
If anyone wants to know, Barcelona go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye.
Check out Messi’s neat finish below.
Messi added another goal in the 83rd minute after he was fouled inside the area by Mathieu Flamini. The forward got up himself to send Cech the wrong way from the penalty spot.
So Barcelona return to Spain victorious and with the quarter-finals in their sights. Enrique’s team have dreams of not only becoming the first team to retain the Champions League, but of winning the treble in back-to-back seasons.
This team is simply masterful and Arsenal witnessed first-hand the danger of the ‘MSN’ trio, who now have 93 goals combined this season.
After securing a two-goal lead, Barcelona defender Gerard Pique was booked for a cynical foul on Danny Welbeck, which many believe was an intentional move by the Spain international.
It means Pique will miss the second leg after picking up his third yellow card of the tournament, but will wipe his disciplinary slate clean for the quarter-finals and beyond.
Barcelona win even when they are punished, it seems.
For Arsenal, they must now turn their attentions to the Premier League. The Gunners are two points behind leaders Leicester and it doesn’t appear that Europe will be a concern for too much longer.