The blaugranes are through to the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners thanks to another devastating performance with goals for Messi (2) Luis Suárez (2), Piqué and Adriano.
FC Barcelona are into the last 16 of this season’s Champions League and they did so in style with another virtuoso performance to sweep aside AS Roma at Camp Nou and in doing so guarantee themselves top spot in Group E. Before a ball was kicked the blaugranes already knew they were through to the knock out stages of the competition thanks to the 1-1 draw between BATE Borisov and Bayer Leverkusen in Belarus. However, there was still the small matter of finishing first in the group and earning the right to play the second of the last 16 tie at home. AS Roma stood in their way, but not for too long as Barça swept them aside with a Second Act of majestic football to rival the First last Saturday in the Santiago Bernabéu. Two goals from Luis Suárez, two from Messi and one each for defenders Gerard Piqué andAdriano send Luis Enrique’s side through as group winner with a game away at Bayer Leverkusen still to come in December.
Messi’s return to the starting 11
Leo Messi returned to the side for his Champions League debut this season at Camp Nou and the Argentine’s eagerness to make his mark was seen as early as the third minute when he linked up beautifully with Neymar, only for the offside flag to bring a halt to proceedings. The draw earlier in the day between BATE Borisov and Bayer Leverkusen meant that a draw against Barça would be by no means a bad result for Rudi Garcia’s side with a home game to come in their final fixture against the Belarusians. However, containing this Barça side is easier said than done. Luis Enrique’s side had already seen one effort ruled out de to a debatable offside decision before they broke the Italian side’s resistance with two wonderful goals in the space of three minutes.
On the quarter of an hour mark a visionary through ball from Neymar released Alves inside the Roma penalty area. The Barça full back held off his opposite number Digne to square the ball for Luis Suárez, the Uruguayan walking the ball into the back of the net for probably the simplest goal he will score all season. More was to come. Just three minutes later another fleet footed, velveteen attack saw the feared trio of Luis Suárez, Neymar and Messi combine to allow the Argentine to lift the ball delicately over the advancing Szczesny for his first goal in the Champions League of 2015/16.
Roma’s misery and Barça’s delight were deepened just a minute before the break. The Italians failed to clear a cross adequately and made the fatal mistake of giving Luis Suárez the opportunity to volley home expertly to score his 11th goal in his last 8 matches for the blaugranes.
Penalty saves and much more
At half time Luis Enrique decided to bring on B team midfielder Sergi Samper to replace Sergio Busquets, the latter having made his 350th appearance in a Barça shirt in official competition. Rudi Garcia also made a change for Roma, Iturbe coming on for Nainggolan and the Italians then had their best chance of the game up until that point, former blaugrana Iago Falqué bringing an excellent save from Ter Stegen low to his right. That, however, was just a fleeting moment of respite for the Serie A side as the blaugranes found the fluidity of passing and the quickness of thought that caused so much damage in the first half.
Ten minutes after the restart Messi cleverly timed to his run on the right hand side of the Roma box to remain onside before squaring the ball to Piqué to allow the centre back to make it 4-0. It was his last contribution to the game before he was replaced by Marc Bartra but it was by no means the Argentine’s final word on the matter. Just four minutes later, the axis Neymar-Suárez-Messi again caused devastation in the Italian penalty area. The Barça number 11 fed the Uruguayan who in turn found Messi with a sleek first time pass. The Argentine’s initial effort was well saved by Szczesny but on the follow up he guided the ball home at the near post to make it five and prolong Roman agony.
The blaugranes showed no mercy and when substitute Uçan brought down Neymar in the box it appeared Messi would have the chance to notch up a hat trick on his return to the starting 11. However, the Argentine’s generosity would not allow it and he handed the ball back to the Brazilian. Neymar’s post kick was saved by Szczesny but another Brazilian, Adriano, was on hand to blaze the rebound into the top corner with just under 15 minutes left. There was still time for Ter Stegen to delight the crowd with a penalty save from Dzeko before the Bosnian headed home a consolation goal for Roma in the very last seconds of the encounter.