We’ll probably never know whether or not Lionel Messi really could do it on cold, wet nights in Stoke, but today we’ve been given even more evidence that he is pretty good at doing it on early spring nights in and against teams from elsewhere around England.
Today was the much-anticipated second leg of this Champions League Round of 16 tie between Barcelona and Chelsea. Chelsea, underdogs against one of the best teams in the world, did have reason to be confident. Though the first leg back at Stamford Bridge finished 1-1—a pretty bad result for a home team due to the away goals rule—the Blues actually played very well in that match. Barcelona might be Barcelona, but they aren’t the terrifying, ruthlessly unforgiving bunch they have been for most of the past decade. Even at home, Barça are beatable.
While Barça might not be the same Barça as in years past, Messi is still Messi. He even broke out a new trick this match, eschewing his famous strategy of walking around and scoping out the defense for the first couple minutes of the match before getting into things, and scored his first ever goal in the first two minutes of a match. This goal came thanks to a lucky deflection and a great Messi shot, but Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois really should’ve done better than getting beat through his legs from a really difficult angle:
Even a goal down, Chelsea continued to play well. It was a little bit of a surprise, then, that the next goal was once again a Barcelona one, as Ousmane Dembélé scored for the first time in Barça’s colors:
Chelsea could’ve been discouraged after that second goal, but instead kept fighting. They made a few dangerous chances, saw a decent penalty shout go ignored, hit the post from a Marcos Alonso free kick, but couldn’t grab that all-important first goal. Instead it was Messi who found the back of the net again, again popping the ball between Courtois’s legs and in the process killing off the match with a half an hour to spare.
For a 4-1 aggregate defeat, Chelsea can be pretty proud of their performance. For the majority of both legs of the tie Chelsea were the better team, and while the Spanish club played well enough to win, Barça can’t be too confident of their prospects in this competition going forward when their team is so dependent on one man to paper over the cracks elsewhere on the pitch. Still, as long as a team has Messi, they’ll have a chance to beat anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances. That goes for games in Barcelona, in Madrid, in London, in Munich, in Manchester, and almost certainly even in Stoke.