Bayer Leverkusen were handed a footballing lesson on Wednesday, suffering an embarrassing 7-1 Champions League loss to Barcelona. The Germans managed only one shot on goal and leave the tourney with much to contemplate.
Few in football could imagine a more difficult task than Barcelona away. And let's be honest, it turned into an absolute nightmare for Bayer Leverkusen.
The Catalans aren't happy just to score goals. They revel in crafting masterpieces of skill, athleticism and teamwork, usually culminating in the opposing goalie picking the ball up numerous times from the back of his net. Tonight was no exception for Bayer Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno, who bent down no less than seven times to collect the ball from between his own sticks.
Leverkusen coach Robin Dutt had made only two changes to his team that had put in a stellar performance to defeat Bayern Munich over the weekend, with Manuel Friedrich and Andre Schürrle both on the bench. Barcelona, meanwhile, rolled out all their usual stars, save for the long-term injured David Villa and Carles Puyol, in their bid to win a third Champions League in four years.
Pep Guardiola must have directed his men to go for goal from the outset and it showed in the opening exchanges. Indeed, with players such as those assembled in the Barca starting XI, there is little reason not to. The Spaniards' 1-3 first-leg advantage was apparently not enough to warrant sitting back. Leverkusen were starved of possession and placed immediately on the back foot.
Open the floodgates
If there is such a thing as a counter-counterattack, that's what led to Barcelona's first goal in the 25th minute. Leverkusen had done a good job of steaming forward to catch Barca off guard down the right, but the cross from Gonzalo Castro came to nothing.
Barca, with perfect fluidity, passed the ball back out through the middle of the park, where it fell to Xavi. The Spain international took note of Leverkusen's high defensive line to put a perfect ball over the top to midfield maestro Lionel Messi, who controlled and hit what was halfway between a chip and a scoop to lift the ball over the hapless Leno. 1-0.
Messi bagged his second in the 42nd minute when a steaming Andres Iniesta found him unmarked - yet still with four defenders between himself and the goal - on the edge of the Leverkusen box. After receiving the pill, the Argentine danced right to left in front of three of the defenders before hitting a sublimely weighted and perfectly curled shot into the bottom left of the goal, leaving Leno rooted between the middle of the sticks. 2-0.
It took only five minutes after the break for Messi to hit his hat trick - his seventh goal in 10 matches. A chip ball fell to the Argentine, who had outwitted the offside trap. Messi controlled, rounded defender Daniel Schwaab, summed up the situation and, once again, chipped Leno from the right of goal. 3-0.
Youngster with debut goal
Perhaps it was a sign of Barca's strength not only on the park but also on the bench when they scored their fourth goal in the 55th minute through youngster Tello, who had come on only one minute previous. Fabregas had put a ball over the top down the left sideline for Tello to control with his first touch of the game, run into the goal box and curl a lovely shot past Leno. 4-0.
It was around this time that Leverkusen appeared to simply give up. Messi scored his fourth goal three minutes after Tello's first when the ball slipped through Leno's grasp, allowing the Argentine to simply pass it into the open net. 5-0. The 20-year-old Tello then bagged his second four minutes later when Leverkusen left him completely unmarked on the left in the box. He was given too much time on the ball and his shot squirmed in underneath Leno. 6-0.
Barcelona's seventh goal and Messi's fifth - a Champions League record - was not much more than a training ground maneuver. The passive Leverkusen defense watched as the ball was passed around and between them in their own box. It came to Messi, who hit a left-footed, curling shot that Leno had no chance of stopping. 7-0.
Almost on the stroke of fulltime, Leverkusen netted a consolation goal - if the word consolation could even be used to describe it - when Karim Bellarabi played a one-two with Simon Rolfes before sweetly hitting a screaming shot across goal and into the top-right corner. 7-1.
Leverkusen played with purpose in their first-leg clash but were inevitably consigned to the role of bit-part players in the second - cannon fodder in Barcelona's charge to the quarterfinals.
Robin Dutt had no recourse but to pay tribute to the man who knocked six goals past his team over two legs. "His class is just extraordinary, there's no discussion," Dutt said. "Without Messi, Barca is the best team and with him, they are in another galaxy."
The challenge now for Dutt is to ensure his men can wake up from the nightmare loss in time for their upcoming Bundesliga clash against Wolfsburg on Saturday.
Extra time battle
In the night's other Round of 16 clash, Cypriot club APOEL Nikosia continued walking their fairy tale Champions League path in their showdown with Olympique Lyonnaise.
Their efforts to overturn a 0-1 first-leg loss got off to the ideal start when they netted in the ninth minute. Gustavo Manduca finished at the back post after a sliding cross from Constantinos Charalambides down the right.
The score remained 1-0 until full time and through to the end of extra time, leading both teams to a penalty shootout. The Cypriot champions have goalie Dionisios Chiotis to thank for their eventual triumph. The Greek keeper pulled off two superb saves to deny Alexandre Lacazette and Michel Bastos, putting his team through to the quarterfinals.
The next lot of Round of 16 matches are to be held March 13-14, during which Bayern Munich will attempt to overturn a 0-1 first-leg loss away to FC Basel.
Author: Darren Mara
Editor: Martin Kuebler