Barcelona Thrashes Lyon To Qualify For Champions League Round Of Eight

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Paris Saint-Germain fell, Real Madrid fell, Atlético Madrid fell, but Barcelona did not. This time there was no surprise, not even really for Olympique Lyonnais, who saw Lionel Messi coming, again and again, just as they had imagined they might, but could not stop him. Bruno Génésio had talked about limiting Messi’s influence but by the time the final whistle went the Argentinian had scored two and made two, for Ousmane Dembélé and Gerard Piqué, while Luis Suárez made another for Philippe Coutinho. 5-1 the scoreboard said, so it was perhaps strange to reflect that briefly there had been nerves here. Lyon momentarily made a match of this, but there is no match for the Argentinian and ultimately Barcelona eased into the quarter-finals.

The pattern had been set early, Lionel Messi and Phillippe Coutinho combining but unable to reach Suárez after two minutes. A minute later, the same three men came together again. That time, Anthony Lopes to push away Messi’s shot; the next, Ivan Rakitic had his shot blocked. And although Tanguy Ndombélé’s effort skidded just past the post three minutes later, Barcelona were swiftly on top, the passing swift and accurate, the pressure applied high.

They particularly progressed up the left, where Jordi Alba dashed by on the outside, chest out, head back, and Coutinho drifted inside. There, he was far more involved than he has been of late, his touch assured, teammates close at hand, Suárez especially. Behind them, Sergio Busquets, Arthur and Ivan Rakitic eased their way into control, Messi as much midfielder as forward, although he it was who found Lopes diving at his feet after 13 minutes and who opened the scoring two minutes after that. He had played the pass that led to it, too.

Although he tried to pull out at the last moment, the challenge on Suárez from Jason Denayer was not exactly subtle; the finish from Messi was, dinking in a gentle Panenka penalty to give Barcelona the lead. At just one goal, Barcelona remained on a knife-edge and that was underlined when Nabil Fekir and Moussa Dembélé opened Barcelona up, Clément Lenglet needing to make a sharp block. But this was largely heading one way and the shot count was rising: it would reach 14 by half-time.

Played in on 20 minutes, Coutinho clashed with Lopes. The ball ran free and Suárez scored, but the referee had blown because the keeper was down. He remained there for three or four minutes, doctors attending to him, and was clearly dazed, but at first chose to continue. By the time he did depart in tears 10 minutes later he had conceded another, Suárez brilliantly shifting his body weight to slip between Marçal and Ferland Mendy to lay the ball off for Coutinho to score easily.

Lyon’s substitute goalkeeper Mathieu Gorgelin came on and, like the man he replaced, watched Barcelona coming his way. He also made a superb save from Messi when Busquets played him clean through and he tried to bend the ball towards the far post. There might have been more, and Barcelona might have regretted that there was not when Lyon got one back early in a second half that had started very differently to the first. Perhaps Barcelona felt it was done; of so, they were wrong.

The second half began with Messi clipping one over the keeper but it was cleared off the line and Lyon took a step up. Briefly, Barcelona disappeared, and this became a game again when a series of loose headers in the Barcelona area ended with Busquets failing to clear and Lucas Tousart controlled on the chest, hitting past Marc-André ter Stegen. There were nerves now. Fekir then hit wide and just after that Memphis Depay, on the turn deep inside the Barcelona box, was unable to get clean contact. Lyon were on top now – and a single goal away from the quarter-final.

Messi, hyperactive now, led the attempt to wrest control back again. Coutinho hit the side-netting before making way for Dembélé, and Messi thumped over a move he had begun, continued and concluded. Then Messi set off again, running at Lyon. He turned sharp right, then back again, a dummy sending Denayer past, heading the wrong way, and Marcelo slipping onto the floor. Then he guided the ball right-footed into the bottom corner.

Barcelona were back in control but Messi was not done yet, either. Another run definitively ended it, driving from the halfway line, slowing down, speeding up again and playing the ball across the face of the goal to the far post where Piqué slid in to score. Yet even that was not the last of it and soon Messi was setting off again. He ran from halfway, Lyon backing off in fear, and rolled it left for Dembélé to get the fifth. [Guardian UK]

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