Lionel Messi lived up to the pre-game billing given to him by Pep Guardiola to spoil his former coach’s Camp Nou return as Barcelona beat Bayern Munich 3-0 in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg.
Wednesday’s encounter in Catalonia marked the first time since his departure from Barca in 2012 that Guardiola had met the team he led to 14 major trophies in four years.
Guardiola had branded Messi “unstoppable” in the build-up to the game and his words proved prophetic as Messi dismantled Bayern with two spectacular late goals.
Having seen Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer frustrate Barca for much of the encounter, the two sides looked set to head back to the Allianz Arena next week with the tie finely poised at 0-0.
But Messi, playing in his 100th European game, produced another sparkling display of his undeniable brilliance to put Barca in command, breaking the deadlock with a rasping 77th-minute opener.
And the Argentina forward doubled his tally three minutes later with a superb solo goal before an injury-time third from Neymar effectively ended the tie as Barca went some way to gaining a measure of revenge for the 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern at the same stage two years ago.
As promised, Guardiola played an attacking side, although that mindset almost cost the Bundesliga champions in the opening stages.
Barca exploited the extra space afforded to them by Bayern’s back three, with Luis Suarez brilliantly denied by a one-on-one save from Neuer in the seventh minute.
Suarez was involved again as Neymar’s shot from his pull-back was deflected wide of the post by Philipp Lahm.
For all the hosts’ early pressure Bayern would have taken the lead had Robert Lewandowski displayed more composure in front of goal.
Thomas Muller played a low ball into the box from the right flank, but Lewandowski – wearing a protective mask due to facial injuries suffered in last week’s DFB-Pokal semi-final with Borussia Dortmund – failed to get a proper connection and shot well wide.
Despite Guardiola switching to a back four, Barca continued to create chances, Suarez heading over from a corner before Dani Alves drew another fine close-range save from Neuer following a superb lofted pass from Andres Iniesta.
The second half saw Bayern tighten things up at the back, but their defence was finally breached as Messi collected a lay-off from Alves and unleashed a low left-footed drive that flew into the bottom-right corner.
But Messi was far from finished and stretched Barca’s lead with a goal befitting a game of such magnitude.
After collecting a pass from Ivan Rakitic, Messi teased Jerome Boateng before expertly flicking the ball from his left to his right boot and lofting a magnificent chipped finish over Neuer and into the bottom-left corner.
There was still time for Neymar to all but ensure Barca’s place in the Berlin showpiece next month as he slipped free of the Bayern defence and coolly slotted the ball underneath Neuer in stoppage time.
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