Leverkusen (Germany): Lionel Messi and Alexis Sanchez starred for Barcelona in a 3-1 win at Bayer Leverkusen in the round of 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday.
Messi scored and set up one of Sanchez’s two goals to put the defending champions in control of the series following the rain-soaked first leg.
“We have the quarterfinals in sight and now we’ll try and get as far as possible,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said.
Sanchez put Barcelona ahead in the 41st minute, slotting the ball past goalkeeper Bernd Leno and inside the left post after being put through by Messi.
Leverkusen defender Michal Kadlec equalized in the 52nd with a header from Vedran Corluka’s cross.
Sanchez answered three minutes later, eluding Leverkusen defender Manuel Friedrich and rounding Leno to finish from a tight angle after Cesc Fabregas had initially sliced open the defense.
Messi, who struck the post in the 72nd, scored in the 88th after setting Dani Alves free on the right before running into the box to direct a pinpoint return from the Brazilian into the net.
It took the three-time FIFA Player of the Year’s tally to seven goals, making him the Champions League’s top-scorer this season.
“He played a good game and we’re happy to have him in our ranks,” Guardiola said.
Both sides were affected by injury going into the game. Neither Xavi Hernandez or Gerard Pique made Barcelona’s team sheet. Xavi was ruled out shortly before kickoff due to swelling in his right calf and Pique dropped for technical reasons.
Michael Ballack, Sidney Sam and Eren Derdiyok were out for the home side, which set out to frustrate the four-time champions from the start.
Sanchez scored with Barcelona’s second real chance, following a first half in which Leverkusen displayed the industry to keep the visitors at bay that befits a team that calls itself the “Werkself” (Factory 11).
Leverkusen defender Daniel Schwaab’s crucial interception prevented Messi from scoring in the 13th from Sanchez’s cross with the net wide open for a simple tap-in.
Barcelona, as expected, dominated possession though found it hard to penetrate the well-drilled defense. Adriano tried his luck from distance but his shot sailed harmlessly wide.
Rushed passes meant Leverkusen was rarely able to threaten. Lars Bender did cause panic in the defense when he eluded two defenders to give Renato Augusto a chance in the 33rd, but Barcelona captain Carles Puyol booted the ball away.
“Still, we always believed in ourselves and we kept our way,” Guardiola said. “We played the way we always play.”
Messi gradually began to exert more influence, and he made the crucial difference when he spotted a rare gap in the Leverkusen midfield to send Sanchez through for the first goal.
He almost scored shortly afterward, shimmying through the Leverkusen defense before the interval.
Leverkusen showed more initiative after the break, and were duly rewarded when Kadlec equalized. The celebrations were short-lived, however, as Sanchez restored the visitors’ advantage.
“Every time you play attacking football against Barcelona you’re going to allow them chances, too. That’s the story,” Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt said.
Augusto should have equalized two minutes later, Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes getting down well to save. Leno then cleared from Messi at the other end as the game opened up.
Castro was unlucky to hit the post in the 64th, and Messi did likewise shortly afterward when dancing past the defense and putting the ball through Friedrich’s legs.
However, it wasn’t long before Messi all but sealed the passage of one quarterfinalist.