…Messi stars as Barcelona beat Chelsea to reach Champions League quarter-finals
Chelsea went out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage as Barcelona forward Lionel Messi punished an error-ridden display in the Nou Camp.
Following a 1-1 draw in the first leg, the visitors fell behind after just 128 seconds as Lionel Messi shot through the legs of Thibaut Courtois from a tight angle.
Messi then set up Ousmane Dembele to hammer home the second after Cesc Fabregas lost possession.
Marcos Alonso hit the post for Chelsea with a free-kick before Messi’s 100th Champions League goal – after a mistake by Cesar Azpilicueta – took the hosts out of sight.
Alonso was then denied a penalty after a challenge by Gerard Pique as Barcelona joined La Liga rivals Real Madrid and Sevilla in Friday’s quarter-final draw.
Chelsea, meanwhile, join fellow Premier League clubs Manchester United and Tottenham in exiting in the first knockout round.
Meanwhile, this season’s Champions League quarter-finalists are: Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Roma and Sevilla.
What next for Conte?
Chelsea’s elimination by the five-time winners is bound to add to the speculation about manager Antonio Conte’s future.
The Blues’ hopes of retaining the Premier League title ended weeks ago, and they may not even secure the top-four finish they need to return to the Champions League.
Conte’s side are fifth in the table, four points behind Liverpool, with their next league game at home to third-placed Tottenham on 1 April.
They head to Leicester on Sunday for an FA Cup quarter-final knowing defeat will leave them without a trophy for the second time in three seasons.
Conte, who has been in charge since the summer of 2016, has a contract until the summer of 2019 but has had to deny reports of a rift with the club’s owners.
Speaking last month, the 48-year-old Italian said it is his “intention, will and desire” to stay at Stamford Bridge.
Defensive frailties cost Chelsea
Chelsea led for 13 minutes of the first leg, but were ultimately well beaten in the tie as Messi finished with three goals over the two matches.
Their European campaign has been littered with defensive mistakes and they made just about the worst possible start against the La Liga lead
After Courtois allowed Messi to beat him from the tightest of angles, the contest was all but over when Fabregas gave the ball away and Dembele fired home after Messi’s driving run.
To be fair, Chelsea were more adventurous than the scoreline suggests.
N’Golo Kante dragged a good chance wide, Marc-Andre ter Stegen beat away an attempt by Alonso, who then struck the woodwork.
Antonio Rudiger headed against the bar in the closing moments – Chelsea hit the woodwork four times over the two games – but by then the tie was over, Messi having fired through Courtois’ legs again after Luis Suarez’s pass.
Conte was upset his side were not awarded a penalty when Alonso went down inside the area but this was a night when his side contributed to their own downfall.
Barca on course for treble
Barcelona will fancy their chances of going all the way in this competition.
This was their sixth clean sheet in their past eight games in Europe, and Messi has scored six Champions League goals this season.
Barca fans unveiled a huge banner before the game which read ‘God Save The King’ in tribute to the Argentina striker, and he responded with his 33rd and 34th club goals of the season.
It is turning into an impressive first season in charge for Ernesto Valverde.
Having reached the final of the Copa del Rey, unbeaten Barca are eight points clear at the top of La Liga with 10 games left, and are now into the last eight of the Champions League.
Man of the match – Lionel Messi (Barcelona)
‘My players gave everything’ – Conte
Chelsea boss Antonio Conte: “It is a pity. At the same time, I must be honest. I must be very proud about my players – they gave everything and we have to continue in this way, with this will to fight and desire to fight together.
“We were a bit unlucky if you consider the two legs. We are showing we can play in both ways. The first leg, defensively we were more compact, and only after our mistake they scored. Tonight, they scored more but we didn’t deserve this result.”
Chelsea visit Leicester City in the FA Cup quarter-final on Sunday (16:30 GMT). Barcelona return to the Nou Camp on Sunday (15:15) as they look to take another big step towards winning La Liga.