Lionel Messi’s moment of brilliance propelled Barcelona to a 3-0 win over Bayern Munich in a Uefa Champions League last-4 tie on Wednesday.
There’s no stopping the Argentine superstar; Pep Guardiola shared the same thought in his pre-game conference on Tuesday and the closing quarter of what was a high-octane spectacle proved the former Barca manager right, as his former protégé came up with the joker on his return to the ground where he won 14 titles as manager.
Bayern have an uphill task on their hands, heading into next week’s return leg in Munich trailing by 3 goals and without hopes of having their top marksmen back. No point making a case for absentees on the night considering the fact that the Bavarians have coped all season with injury problems.
However, the absence of the likes of David Alaba (knee), Arjen Robben (calf), Franck Ribéry (ankle), as well as Sebastian Rode (muscular problems) and Holger Badstuber (thigh) made little room for the possession-drunk and offensive German game, as were the case three years back when the Allianz Arena outfit were rarely troubled On their way to a 7-0 aggregate win over Barca in the semi-final stage of the Champions League.
And while the half-fit Robert Lewandowski could not single-handedly force matters into his own hands, Barca were rampaging on all front with
Neymar, Messi and Luis Suarez- the trio who had 108 goals between them before Tuesday’s kickoff- constantly picking on every loophole.
Up till the 77th minute, Bayern were hell bent on snuffing out the Catalans’ spark with some masterclass defending and Manuel Neuer’s safe hands but two Lionel Messi goals in the space of three minutes cracked Bayern’s resolve and a late Neymar compliment placed the icing on the cake.
A tricky ploy could not have staved it off for Bayern after they started with an unfamiliar three-man defence, with Lewandowski and Thomas Muller employed high up in a bid to pressure the hosts but the team lacked manpower; yet they saw much of the ball in the opening ten minutes but almost fell flat for Suarez, were it not for Neuer’s brilliance in a one-on-one situation against the Uruguayan.
The former Liverpool man then tried setting up Neymar from the edge of the box but the Brazilian scuffed his effort wide.
Not long had Guardiola tweaked his formation back to a four-man defence had their first opening surfaced as Muller beat his marker on the right before whipping in a cross for the unmarked Lewandowski, who just could not connect with the ball.
Suarez nodded over from a corner. Bayern were fighting for their dear lives again six minutes from the interval as Alves controlled with his chest an Andres Iniesta lovely lobbed pass over the defence but could not beat Neuer’s outstretched legs.
Bayern continued to pile on pressure on restart but lacked urgency as they approached the attacking third. A Neymar-Messi one-two then ended at the mercy of Neuer, who was later unfazed by another attempt by the former Brazilian.
The deadlock was finally broken 13 minutes from time thanks to a clever pass from Alves to Messi, who fired a tremendous low shot past the German shot-stopper at his near post. The four-time Ballon d’Or winner doubled his tally moments later via his trademark daredevil skill; receiving a pass from Rakitic from 30 yards out he turned Jerome Boateng inside out before chipping over the earlier impenetrable Neuer.
Messi sent Neymar clear on goal in the closing seconds and the latter clinically fired home to put a touch of perfection to the Baulgranas’ night.
The win left coach Luis Enrique’s men on the verge if their eighth European Cup final.