Barça put foot in the quarters
Barcelona put one foot in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League with a 3-1 victory over a Bayer Leverkusen that lacked ideas in attack.
After the German hosts sat deep to frustrate Barça in the first half, Alexis Sanchez's first Champions League goal, scored in the 41st minute, separated the teams at the break. But Leverkusen came out with a much more positive outlook after the break, levelling through Michal Kadlec and then having several chances before Sanchez's second and a late Lionel Messi strike gave Barça victory.
"I think the second half was good, we used the space better after we took the lead," said Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. "We tried to improve our game, we had a few chances in the first half, but perhaps the final pass was missing. But we were playing away and we came into the game after the break."
Leverkusen, hit heavily by injury, set up to defend against a Barcelona side that was missing Xavi Hernandez. The result was a fairly drab opening, with a Dani Alves free-kick, sent comfortably over the bar, the sum total of the chances in the opening quarter-hour.
Daniel Schwaab made a fine intervention to prevent Messi nipping in for an easy close-range chance, before Adriano curled a shot well wide from the left channel with openings hard to come by. Andre Schurrle fluffed Leverkusen's only half-chance of the first 45 minutes, totally mis-kicking when the ball sat up invitingly on the edge of the area.
Messi was doing his best to wriggle through the Leverkusen defence, but could not get enough power on a shot through Schwaab's legs from a difficult angle. But the Argentinian was the provider for the opening goal, flicking a pass over the defence that had Alexis and Cesc Fabregas scampering after it. Alexis won the debate between the two and slipped it through the legs of Bernd Leno and into the bottom corner.
With their containment strategy undone, Leverkusen looked much more positive to start the second half, with Manuel Friedrich having an early chance when Puyol's header fell for him at the far post, but he could not stretch far enough to turn it goalwards.
They were level in the 52nd minute as Vedran Corluka was allowed the time to cross from a tight position, standing the ball up for Kadlec to head in. But parity lasted only four minutes before Alexis got his second, latching on to a wonderful threaded ball from Fabregas to round the goalkeeper and finish.
Moments later, a defensive mix-up gave Renato Augusto another chance for the hosts, but his shot was straight at Victor Valdes. They had another chance to level in the 64th minute when Gonzalo Castro raced onto the ball and powered a low shot at goal, but Valdes used fingertips to push it onto the post.
Messi was the next to find the woodwork, racing in from the right wing and then dinking a shot over the onrushing Leno from a tight angle, only to see it come back off the upright.
Leverkusen introduced Stefan Kiessling from the bench and he almost had an immediate impact, stooping to head Castro's curling cross at goal and forcing Valdes into a good save on the line.
Leno was then called on to make a fine save and deny Alexis a hat-trick as he sent a diving header goalwards. But Barça got what could be a killer third goal two minutes from time, with Messi the creator and finisher as he slipped Dani Alves through and the Brazilian selflessly squared for the Argentinian to find the net.