Barcelona 7-1 Bayer Leverkusen: It's a Messi-cre at Camp Nou as Lionel nets five
An astonishing five goals from Lionel Messi fired Barcelona to a 7-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen at the Camp Nou, sealing a 10-2 aggregate passage to the Champions League quarter-finals.
A relatively quiet first half brought just two Messi goals - both clinical finishes on the counter-attack - but the floodgates opened after the break with the Argentine maestro scoring three more and substitute Cristian Tello also grabbing a quick fire double.
Bayer's Karim Bellarabi nicked an injury time consolation, but all the talk afterwards was of Messi becoming the first player to score five goals in a Champions League game.
Barca boss Pep Guardiola led the praise. "Today we saw one of Messi's most special nights - it was a gift. It is not easy to score five goals and this is coming from someone who only scored 11 in his whole career. If one day he wants to, he will score six."
Bayer coach Robin Dutt reached as far as he could for superlatives. "There are no words to describe such play," said Dutt. "It comes from somewhere extraordinary. Without Messi, Barca is the best team in the world, but with him they are from another galaxy."
Few inside the Camp Nou were expecting to witness such historic events as the teams kicked off. Guardiola's team was as expected, with captain Carles Puyol out with a muscle injury, and centre-half Gerard Piqué starting despite the ongoing row over last weekend's criticism of referee Victoriano Sánchez Arminio.
With seemingly nothing to lose Dutt went from no strikers in the first leg to two, with Steffan Kiessling and Eren Derdiyok paired up front. That did not mean a gung-ho approach from the Germans and once the game begun they were keen to keep their two defensive lines of four together whenever possible.
After a quiet opening, Daniel Alves injected some pace from right-back, linking with Cesc Fábregas. He found Messi in the area but Bayer keeper Bernd Leno saved well at his near post and was quickly up to block Xavi’s follow-up.
Barca kept carefully probing and Andrés Iniesta won a free kick on the left, which Xavi flighted towards Piqué near the penalty spot. His header was on target but lacked pace and Leno gathered it.
Piqué was needed in his own area moments later Bayer for the first time really committed men to a break. The defender cut out a cross and seconds later Xavi lofted a superb ball behind the defence for Messi to run on to and lift the ball beautifully over Leno for the opener.
That made things even more difficult for Bayer, but they kept to their mostly containing approach. Another quick interchange of Barca passes teed up Xavi to shoot over from 25 yards. Barca keeper Victor Valdés remained just an observer.
It was 2-0 when Piqué misplaced a pass out of defence, and the Germans sensed a chance to break. They blew it though and Iniesta pounced, advancing and finding Messi who fixed two defenders before shooting early, surprising Leno and finding the bottom corner.
With the Germans knowing the tie was long gone, more holes appeared in their defensive system. Messi got the third when Fábregas’s perfect ball released him to repeat the dinked finish of the first goal.
Swiss striker Derdiyok almost pulled one back, but the one way traffic resumed when Tello - on for Iniesta - hared clear down the left to calmly shoot past Leno. Messi expertly took advantage of a mistake by the keeper for the fifth, who was again at fault as Tello’s shot made it six.
The Argentine then made history with his fifth - a clinical 15 yard shot which nobody could have stopped. The strike took him to within seven goals of the all-time Barcelona goal scoring record - set in the 1940s and 1950s, over 17 seasons, by César Rodríguez.
Messi will catch him soon, and is still just 24 years of age. The Argentine was his usual modest self when interviewed by Spanish TV after the game. "It is nice to score five goals," he said. "The most important thing is that we won. That was what we wanted, to get through to the next round. I am very happy."