Barcelona has one foot in the UEFA Champions League final after they dispatched Bayern Munich 3-0 at the Nou Camp on Wednesday.
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Lionel Messi grabbed two of Barca’s goals, plus Neymar added another in the final 13 minutes, as the Catalan giants won the first leg of the UCL semifinal and take a three-goal advantage with them to Bavaria next Tuesday.
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Bayern tried to withstand heavy pressure from the hosts but were hit with two moments of magic from Messi in three minutes as it was an unhappy return to Barcelona for Pep Guaridola.
[ VIDEO: Messi’s sublime second goal vs. Bayern ]
Here’s three things we learned from a scintillating Champions League clash.
MESSI’S MAGIC IS MESMERIZING
Bayern’s defender Jerome Boateng knew what was going to happen as Lionel Messi surged into the box in the 80th minute. And even though the Bayern Munich defender knew Messi was about to jinx past him, there was nothing he could do to stop the Argentine delivering a devastating body swerve before flicking the ball past Boateng with his left and then dinking it over Manuel Neuer with his right to make it 2-0. Three minutes earlier Messi had beaten Neuer at his near post from the edge of the box, after a mistake from Bernat handed Dani Alves the ball, to open the scoring. The Argentine ace is now the highest scoring player in UCL history with 77 goals, as his personal duel with Cristiano Ronaldo continues. We are running out of superlatives for Messi’s greatness. Before the game Bayern’s boss Pep Guardiola summed up Messi’s genius perfectly, and was then watched on as his side was battered by his brilliance.
“There is not a system or coach to stop talent of Messi’s magnitude,” Guardiola said. “The way he has been playing over the past four or five months, you cannot stop him. He is too good.”
He had six attempts on Wednesday, four were on goal and two went in. When his team needs him most, Messi always delivers. Messi set up Neymar in stoppage time for the final nail in Bayern’s coffin and along with his two partners in crime, Messi, Suarez and Neymar now have 111 goals between them this season. Sensational and as Bayern found out, simply unstoppable.
WITHOUT NEUER, IT WOULD’VE BEEN WORSE…
Messi’s greatness aside, if it wasn’t for Manuel Neuer on Wednesday then Bayern Munich’s defeat could have been a lot heavier. The German international goalkeeper saved two one-on-one’s in the first half as he saved with his foot from Luis Suarez in the 12th minute and then denied Alves just before the break as he surged off his line. In the 60th minute Neuer lived up to his “sweeper keeper” label to deny Neymar and at times it was like shooting practice for Barca but they couldn’t find a way past Neuer, until Messi struck late on. The only blot on his copybook was being beaten at his near post on the opening goal. Also, was there any need to play a quick goal kick in the build up to that opener? Neuer rushed out of his area to shout and scream at Bayern’s left back Bernat in the aftermath but he had put Bernat under pressure with a needless pass. That mistake aside, Neuer once again proved he is the best goalkeeper on the planet and after his nomination for Ballon D’Or in 2014 alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, could he kick on and win the crown in 2015 and beyond?
PEP SURPRISES ON RETURN; BARCA’S REVENGE
When Bayern lined up with a three-man central defense in the opening stages, nobody could believe it. Former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola was fighting fire with fire on his first trip back to the club he coached to every major title on the planet from 2008-12, plus he won the UCL as a player and was a midfield general for the Catalan club. Few know Barca’s current crop of players better than Guardiola and his decision to match three defenders man for man vs. Neymar, Messi and Suarez backfired massively early on as Barcelona poured forward time and time again. Guardiola saw the error of his ways and switched to a flat back four after an early onslaught but why did he put Bayern on the backfoot from the offset? He tried to go for it from the start with high pressure all over the pitch to catch Barcelona out, but he had star attackers such as Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Mueller and many others at his disposal to play their natural game. It was a mistake to switch things up.
The stat above suggests that Guardiola has struggled to curb his teams attacking instincts, both with Barca and Bayern, away from home in Europe. His tactical acumen should not be questioned given all he has achieved in the game but there will be plenty of scrutiny aimed at him from the German media as his growing pains continue in Europe with the Bavarian giants. Yes, Bayern were missing Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben and David Alaba plus others through injury but Guardiola’s initial tactics will come in to question during the postmortem of this match. On the other side of the coin, Barcelona’s players would not have forgotten about the 7-0 humbling they suffered over two legs to Bayern back in 2013 in the UCL semifinal. This time, it could well be Barca beating Bayern by the same aggregate scoreline after a stunning finish to the first leg in Spain. Surely Bayern is dead and buried due to a combination of Messi’s magic and Guardiola’s timid tactics.