Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez send Barcelona to UCL quarterfinals
Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez led Barcelona to a 3-1 victory (5-1 on aggregate) against Arsenal at the Camp Nou in the second leg of the last 16 of the Champions League. The Blaugrana, whose superiority made them fully deserving of a place in the quarterfinals for the ninth consecutive season, enjoyed 63 percent of possession, created 17 goalscoring chances and attempted 13 shots, eight of them on target.
The visitors started the game confidently, pressing all over the park and hoping to stop Barca from dominating the game with their traditionally effective, patient approach. Although Arsene Wenger's masterplan seemed to work well initially, a moment magic from the MSN trident after just 17 minutes was enough to unbalance the game in the hosts' favour.
Although Barcelona were not able to make their attacking transitions as fluid as they would have hoped for, their collective solidity and astounding effectiveness upfront helped them extend their record unbeaten run to 38 games, secure their ninth consecutive win in all competitions and take another step towards becoming the first ever team to win back-to-back Champions League titles.
Player Ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 8 -- The German goalkeeper could do absolutely nothing to save Mohamed Elneny's superb strike which equalised the game shortly after the break, but showed his worth when blocking a superb free-kick from Alexis Sanchez in the dying minutes. Confident enough to play the ball on the floor even when under pressure from the visitors' forwards.
DF Dani Alves, 7 -- Clearly prioritising his defensive duties, the Brazilian international did not join in attack as often as Cules have been used to in recent times. His more conservative approach added much-needed balance to his team's back-line.
DF Javier Mascherano, 7 -- Stood his ground well against the Gunners' speedy, physical forwards. In what was clearly a controversial movement, the Argentinean international must be delighted that Alex Iwobi's fall inside the area in the first half was not punished with a penalty.
DF Jeremy Mathieu, 8 -- Deputised for the suspended Gerard Pique, delivering a solid performance at the heart of the Catalans' back-line. Blocked a couple of shots which were heading directly to the back of the home side's net, proving his manager right for selecting him ahead of both Thomas Vermaelen and Marc Bartra.
DF Jordi Alba, 8 -- A constant threat from the left flank, which the visitors found increasingly difficult to handle. As courageous and focused as ever, the Catalan left-back was simply outstanding.
MF Sergio Busquets, 7 -- Played the ball effortlessly across the park, giving those around him a reliable outlet to fall back on when under pressure. Could have even scored his first goal of the season, but his header went wide despite being left totally unmarked inside the Gunners' area.
MF Andres Iniesta, 7 -- Added an extra gear to the Catalans' midfield, often facing opponents one-on-one in order to create spaces for others to exploit. Connected well with his front three, particularly when drifting towards the centre of the park.
MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 -- The Croatian's purposeful passing helped his side during attacking transitions; his defensive work-rate ensured the visitors did not have enough time to think in possession. With sensational performances of this calibre, it is easy to see why the No. 4 is the Blaugrana to be trusted with the most appearances this season.
FW Neymar, 8 -- Opened the scoring with an assured finish, taking his season tally to an impressive 26 goals. His impressive speed gave him the upper hand over his markers time and time again, which enabled him to find Suarez and, particularly, Messi whenever needed. Even found time to gift fans with plenty of exquisite skills, which the Camp Nou faithful certainly appreciated.
FW Luis Suarez, 8 -- After a relatively quiet start to the game, the Uruguayan striker provided Neymar with a simple yet effective assist for the hosts' opener. Barca's top-goalscorer this season, with 43 goals in 42 appearances, delivered the hammer blow by adding his team's second with a spectacular, top-corner volley.
FW Lionel Messi, 8 -- The five-time Ballon d'Or winner could have scored his team's opener after a superb run behind his marker, but was spectacularly denied by Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina. The No. 10 did leave it late, but ended up rounding another stellar all-around performance with a clever flick to seal the Catalans' qualification for the next round.
MF Sergi Roberto, NR -- Substituted Iniesta after 71 minutes, providing the Barcelona midfield with much-needed fresh legs.
MF Arda Turan, NR -- Replaced Rakitic with 14 minutes to go, slotting well ahead of Busquets to secure a thoroughly deserved victory.