Antonio Conte acknowledged his Chelsea side were undone by the best player in the world after Lionel Messi’s brace put Barcelona through to their 11th consecutive Champions League quarter-final.
The reigning Premier League champions were held to a 1-1 draw by a Messi equaliser in the first leg at Stamford Bridge last month and the five-time Ballon d’Or winner broke the deadlock in the third minute of the return fixture at Camp Nou.
He nutmegged Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois to score for a second time, bringing up 100 career Champions League goals after the hour and sealing a 3-0 win, with Ousmane Dembele’s thunderous strike halting an encouraging spell for the visitors in the 20th minute.
“I think tonight and in these two legs Messi made the difference. As you know very well we are talking about the best player in the world,” Conte told BT Sport.
“I think that over the two legs we were a bit unlucky. We hit the post four times and in our best moments they scored.
“They were very, very clinical and tonight I think we created many chances but we didn’t take them.”
11 – Barcelona have reached the quarter-finals for the 11th consecutive season, the longest run in the history of the Champions League. Infallible. pic.twitter.com/8sNKNJa1B8
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) March 14, 2018
It was a game to forget for Courtois in particular but Conte’s attention was drawn back towards the star of the show.
“We are talking about a player who every season finishes with 60 goals and assists,” he continued.
“We are talking about not a top player but a super top player. He made the difference.
“But, at the same time, we have no regrets. I must be pleased for the commitment of my players. I am very proud because they gave everything tonight and maybe we didn’t deserve to lose 3-0.”
Conte was furious on the touchline when Marcos Alonso – who hit the upright with a free-kick before half-time – had a penalty claim rejected following a challenge from Gerard Pique early in the second period, but he insisted it was no time to make excuses.
“I didn’t see it again on TV but during the game from the bench, for me it was clear it was a penalty,” he added.
“But now I will not complaint. We have to move on and prepare the game against Leicester [in the FA Cup quarter-finals] on Sunday.”
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