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Lionel Messi masterclass extinguishes Manchester United’s Champions League hopes

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Lionel Messi delivered a vintage display to dismantle Manchester United (Getty Images)

A double from Lionel Messi and a long-range screamer from Philippe Coutinho handed Barcelona a comprehensive 3-0 (4-0 agg) victory over Manchester United in the Champions League quarter-final at the Camp Nou.

Before the game, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted that United would go for it, telling BT Sport: ‘We want them to go out there and express themselves and go forward.’

That was evident inside the opening minute when Paul Pogba released Marcus Rashford down Barcelona’s right-hand channel with the striker nicking the top of the crossbar with an outside of the boot effort after just 38 seconds.

A minute later, United carved Barcelona’s defence open with ease once more, but unfortunately for them, it was Scott McTominay who found himself unmarked in the middle of Barcelona’s box rather than Rashford or Anthony Martial. A poor first touch from the Scottish international allowed Barcelona to snuff out the chance before it had even developed.

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Barcelona eventually snapped out of their early game funk and thought they had a penalty after 11 minutes when Ivan Rakitic went tumbling to the floor after coming into contact with Fred. Referee Felix Brych, who doubles up as a Doctor of Law, pointed to the spot, only to reverse the decision after consulting his touchline monitor. Not for the first time during this Champions League adventure, VAR came to United’s rescue.

That decision proved to be little more than a momentary respite as five minutes later Barcelona had the lead. Ashley Young’s attempted clearance ricocheted into the path of Messi, who nutmegged Fred, pivoted around Phil Jones and then bent an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner from the edge of the box. David De Gea had no chance.

Lionel Messi celebrates after putting Barcelona 2-0 up (Getty Images)

That wasn’t the case four minutes later, though, as De Gea found himself picking the ball out of his net for a second time. Again it was a Messi shot from the edge of the box that nestled into the bottom corner, this time from his right foot, but he had a huge helping hand from the United goalkeeper as the shot squirmed agonisingly underneath his body.

It was an uncharacteristic howler from the United ‘keeper that all but settled the tie. The pre-match talk was dominated by whether or not this United side could summon up the spirit of 1999 and complete a miraculous comeback of their own in the Camp Nou. Inside 20 minutes any hopes of doing so had been virtually extinguished.

Lionel Messi ?

How do you defend this man?! ???? pic.twitter.com/LhWWJgLESi

— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 16, 2019

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On the stroke of half-time, it was very nearly game, set and match. Messi, as ever, was involved, turning Phil Jones on the halfway line, scampering away from him then nutmegging him for good measure, before teeing up Jordi Alba to cross for Sergi Roberto. De Gea partially redeemed himself with a scarcely believable block on his goal-line to deny him.

United needed another fast start in the second half to stand any chance but it didn’t happen. The damage had already been done. Instead, it was Barcelona who were hunting for the game’s third goal and Messi could have grabbed his hat-trick moments after half-time when his shot deflected wide off Young.

Just past the hour mark, Barcelona did get their third of the night and the only surprise was that it wasn’t Messi who scored it. Alba, who was sensational all evening on the left flank, laid the ball into Coutinho’s path and the Brazilian cut inside before bending a vintage shot from distance into the top corner.

Coutinho got in on the act in the second half (Getty Images)

It was the type of goal that Coutinho executed countless times in the Premier League during his time with Liverpool and he certainly enjoyed the moment, sticking his fingers into his ears to silence his many vocal critics this season. More goals like that and speculation linking with him a move away from Catalunya will start to subside.

A few minutes later, Messi almost completed his hat-trick with an outrageous overhead kick that flew inches wide of the far post. Solskjaer swiftly made a substitution that demonstrated the game had become a damage limitation exercise in response, with full-back Diogo Dalot introduced in place of Martial.

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With 70 minutes gone, Barcelona made their first change of the night as Nelson Semedo came on for Sergi Roberto and as that change was being made, an enormous roar reverberated around the famous old stadium.

It wasn’t to mark Roberto’s contribution, nor Semedo’s introduction but instead for the news that Ajax had gone 2-1 up against Juventus. Cristiano Ronaldo’s association with Real Madrid probably had something to do with it, as perhaps did the goalscorer with Matthijs De Ligt being strongly linked with a move to Barcelona this summer.

It was a difficult night for David De Gea and Manchester United (Getty Images)

The final 20 minutes had an almost testimonial feel to it with United keen to avoid further damage and Barcelona happy to pop the ball around and not over-exert themselves. There was a nice reception for a moustachioed Alexis Sanchez from the home support, though, as the Chilean made his comeback from injury at his old stomping ground ten minutes from time.

Sanchez, who netted 47 times in three seasons as a Barcelona player, almost capped his return with a goal as he flung himself at Dalot’s cross only to see Ter Stegen somehow spring to his left to keep out his powerful diving header. It was 1-1 between the goalkeepers in the miraculous save stakes.

There was time still for Messi to sting De Gea’s palms with a fierce shot in stoppage time, but for once, he was unable to complete the hat-trick. Nevertheless, Messi was the difference, scoring his 23rd and 24th goals against English opponents in the Champions League.

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