Lionel Messi added a third and final dagger in the closing minutes to make sure Leverkusen had no chance of having any hope of coming out for the first leg with at least a draw, and no chance of making the Champions League quarter finals this season, joining Alexis’ double to give Barcelona a 3-1 win in the first leg.
Pep Guardiola’s side did look lacking a bit of confidence, as their invincible aura took quite a beating this season in the La Liga, with the distance from Real Madrid and a fourth consecutive title becoming a nearly impossible 10 point gap. The problems, like in the Osasuna defeat, came up when the midfield line was breached and the Pique-less defense had to handle the tall and physical Leverkusen offense.
Luckily for Barcelona, setting aside a few decent minutes of actual attacking football from Robin Dutt’s side, Leverkusen didn’t have much to give them any kind of advantage against the European champions midfield, which was missing Xavi. Even without him, the quality and experience was just too much for almost the entire 90 minutes.
Alexis is getting more and more comfortable with his new role as an actual central striker, and made the most of the few times the Leverkusen back four ventured too far apart and forward, showing his clinical finishing in front of the talented Bernd Leno. Dani Alves’ presence on the wing became more effective as the game drew on and brought more and more pressure against Leverkusen who were making feeble attempts of going forward.
That final venture on the right wing also brough Lionel Messi his 44th Champions League goal, and he was rather close to scoring one of the best of the year after creating havoc and chipping over the keeper, only to be denied by the post.
Leverkusen will try and come back in one piece from the second leg, but even with Michael Ballack, Leverkusen just aren’t the kind of team to really test Barcelona. They did show the fragility of the Barcelona back four, especially when facing a physical and tall attack, but that goal was not something indicative of their abilities, but more of Barca’s defensive problems and a bit of luck.
For Barca, it might have signaled the end of the tinkering for Guardiola. I don’t think he’s given up on the league just yet, but the chances of actually catching up with Real Madrid, who can’t seem to drop points, are rather slim. But playing without the strongest possible team, injuries or not, stops being an option for a team trying to become the first club in over 20 years to repeat a Champions League title.