A brace from Lionel Messi powered Barcelona into the Champions League semi-finals thanks in part to a 3-0 victory over Manchester United in their quarterfinal second leg on Tuesday night at the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
The Argentine found the back of the net twice in a span of four minutes in the first half, the first in trademark Messi style with a great left-footed strike, and the second courtesy of a howler from United goalkeeper David De Gea.
Philippe Coutinho then capped the 4-0 aggregate win on the hour mark with an excellent right-footed effort, using the celebration to tell the Camp Nou that he hadn’t exactly appreciated the whistles he had received during the season.
Having rotated his squad over the weekend in league play, manager Ernesto Valverde rolled out his strongest possible starting XI, with Sergi Roberto slotting in at right-back and Arthur getting the nod in midfield.
United came storming out of the gates and Marcos Rashford nearly pulled the Premier League side level inside the first minute, only to see his shot hit the crossbar.
Barcelona thought they caught an early break when Ivan Rakitic went down in the area and a penalty was called, but VAR said otherwise and referee Felix Brych took away the spot kick for the hosts.
The visitors from Manchester were stretching the Barcelona defence and with some better finishing, United could have had a goal.
They would come to rue their wastefulness, as a classic Messi goal handed Barcelona a 1-0 lead. Ashley Young lost possession deep in the United half and Messi was there to pounce, moving to his left and unleashing one of his patented low-driven left-footers that curled around De Gea and into goal.
United looked to respond only to gift Barcelona their second of the night. Messi got to a loose ball and fired a right-footer at goal that looked easy enough for De Gea to save, however the ball inexplicably got under the Spain No.1 and rolled into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
For all the grief that De Gea will receive for his howler, credit must be given for his save right before half-time. It started with Messi putting Phil Jones through the rinse cycle, before playing wide left to Jordi Alba who crossed for the charging Sergi Roberto at the far post, but the Barcelona right-back’s shot struck the chest of De Gea and was eventually cleared.
Barcelona looked to get a third to put the tie to bed and Messi was on the verge of notching his hat-trick, but saw his left-footed effort deflected away.
The goal was just a question of time though and this time Coutinho dutifully obliged by polishing off a beautifully constructed team goal in which Messi floated an inch-perfect pass to Alba, who one-touched to Coutinho and the Brazilian, with the greatest of ease, curled in a right-footer for a 3-0 lead.
The final half-hour was a mere formality and the only real noise made was when news leaked that Ajax had taken a lead in Turin against Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus. Goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen rounded out Barcelona’s night with a reaction save from an Alexis Sanchez header, spoiling the Chilean’s return to the Camp Nou and putting a bow on a complete performance for the Catalonians.
3.- Barcelona: Ter Stegen; Sergi Roberto (Semedo, min. 71), Pique, Lenglet, Jordi Alba; Busquets, Rakitic, Arthur (Vidal, min. 75); Messi, Suarez, Coutinho (Dembele, min. 81).
0.- Manchester United: De Gea; Fred, Lindelof, Smalling, Jones, Young; McTominay, Lingard (Sanchez, min. 80), Pogba; Martial (Dalot, min. 65), Rashford (Lukaku, min. 73).
Goals: 1-0, min. 16: Messi; 2-0, min. 20: Messi; 3-0, min. 61: Coutinho.
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany).
Yellow cards: Suarez (Min. 77) for Barcelona.
Red cards: None.
Stadium: Camp Nou.
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