Lionel Messi produced another masterful Champions League performance to knock out Manchester United and fire Barcelona into the semi-finals for the first time in four years, scoring twice in a 3-0 home win on Tuesday.
Barca, who toyed with United for the majority of the encounter, sealed a 4-0 aggregate victory and will meet either Porto or Liverpool in the last four.
Messi had failed to score in his last 12 quarter-final appearances, but he settled his side’s nerves after a bright start from United, collecting a misplaced pass from Ashley Young and curling into the bottom corner in the 16th minute.
The Argentine then pounced on another lapse from United’s defence four minutes later to win back possession high up the pitch and fire a shot from outside the box, which squirmed under visiting keeper David de Gea.
Philippe Coutinho finished off a therapeutic win for the Catalans, after three quarter-final failures in a row, by curling into the top corner in the second half.
“This was a spectacular performance, this is what we are all about,” Messi told reporters.
“The first five minutes we were a little shy and nervous, perhaps the scoreline gave us a strange feeling, but then we took control of the game.”
United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s greatest night as a player came at the Nou Camp, but after losing the first leg at Old Trafford 1-0, his team needed to become the first side to win a European game there in 31 matches in order to progress.
They clung to the hope of another famous European escape act after last month’s miraculous 3-1 win at Paris St Germain and made a strong start as Marcus Rashford hit the crossbar in the opening stages.
They also survived a scare when a penalty awarded to Barca for an apparent foul by Fred on Ivan Rakitic was overturned after a VAR review.
Yet their hopes were soon extinguished when Young was caught in possession on the left wing and Messi seized the ball, scurrying across the pitch and holding off more United defenders before bending a superb shot past the outstretched De Gea.
DE GEA EMBARRASSED
The Spanish goalkeeper was left embarrassed for Messi’s second goal as the Argentine’s tame shot crept under his body.
“We did well to get here but we could see the difference between the two teams. We started well, in the first 15 minutes we thought we could get something here and then they got the two goals,” said Solskjaer.
“You know that at this level you cannot slip up and make mistakes and you have to take your chances when you get them. We didn’t capitalise on our great start, then they have their first two shots on target, they get two goals then it’s game over.”
Whits De Gea dain Tom pic.twitter.com/ZWzhpImR3s
— Tam Sellics son (@gibbogibby1) 16 April 2019
United looked down and out and Messi nearly dealt them further pain before halftime by sparking another quick break, but this time De Gea thwarted the Catalans, pushing away Sergi Roberto’s shot on the goalline.
De Gea was taunted by Barca fans in the second half, which turned into a procession for the home side and the out-of-form Coutinho turned up the party atmosphere with his sensational strike.
The nearest United came to finding the target after the break was when Barca keeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen turned an Alexis Sanchez header around the post late on.
‘Messi always gets us out of trouble’ – Valverde
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde praised Lionel Messi for settling his side down after a nervy start against Manchester United and inspiring the Catalans to a 3-0 victory to reach the Champions League quarter-finals.
Marcus Rashford struck the crossbar for the visitors in the second minute at the Nou Camp but Messi scored twice in the space of five minutes later in the first half to put Barca at ease.
Philippe Coutinho’s stunning strike completed a dominant 4-0 aggregate victory.
“Messi always gets us out of trouble and we’re not going to apologise for having him,” Valverde told a news conference.
“Leo always turns up in the important games, not just in the big moments but throughout the whole game. He is always capable of scoring but he also drives the team’s attack.”
Valverde said his side were relieved to finally hurdle the quarter-final barrier after three successive exits in the last eight, particularly after last season’s 3-0 second-leg defeat to AS Roma after winning the first leg 4-1.
“We had a lot of hope for this tie, it was a long time since we have been in the semi-finals and we had a very painful defeat last year,” he said.
“You never know what can happen in football, they have a very good team and they could have caused us problems, so we made sure we were focused and played with intensity so we would make it through.”
United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer meanwhile backed Barca to conquer the continent again.
“With the quality they’ve got, the front three they’ve got, and players they can bring on like Dembele and Malcom, I wouldn’t bet against them,” Solskjaer said.
“They would be favourites to win the whole tournament.”
He added Messi’s majestic display underlined why is he regarded as the best player in the world alongside Cristiano Ronaldo.
“He’s an exceptional talent, him and Cristiano have been the best players in the world the last decade and he showed why we think that and why this team have won the Champions League so many times,” added the Norwegian.
“If you give him space and time around the goal he’ll create and score goals. Whenever he gets the ball around the box he will be decisive and unfortunately for us he was the winner for them.”
Solskjaer calls for squad rebuild
Although United made a bright start to their quarter-final second leg at the Nou Camp with Marcus Rashford hitting the crossbar early on, they were soon outclassed by Barca, who eased to a 3-0 win on Tuesday for a dominant 4-0 aggregate victory.
“We were fighting against a great team and we know there’s work to be done but I’ve said all along this isn’t going to change overnight,” Solskjaer told a news conference.
“The next few years are going to be massive to get to the level that Barcelona and other teams are at.”
Solskjaer has restored United’s confidence and overseen a vast improvement in results in his four months in charge since taking the job after Jose Mourinho was sacked in December, giving the team hope of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
He also led them to an historic comeback after a 2-0 first-leg defeat at home to Paris St Germain in the Champions League last 16, going through on away goals with a 3-1 win in the French capital.
Yet the scale of the long-term surgery his side needs was laid bare at the Nou Camp, where Barca walked all over United.
Messi pounced on a wayward pass by United captain Ashley Young to break the deadlock in the 16th minute while midfielder Fred also surrendered possession a few moments later and Messi again capitalised, with his shot squeezing under the usually excellent David de Gea.
“We’ve got good players to work with and at the moment we’ve done really well to get to the quarters and challenge for top four, but we’ve got a rebuilding job. It starts with the coaches and players, and with one or two additions,” added the Norwegian.
“We’re on with the job and have spoken to the players we need to get the best out of each other, create an environment of top class attitude, world class attitude every single day.”
Hate to admit it but this Coutinho goal was a stunner. De Gea is finished fam! pic.twitter.com/vRkc4X43H4
— DIOGENES (@Nerdotect) 16 April 2019
Barca scored their third goal when Philippe Coutinho was left with plenty of space and time to curl a shot into the top corner.
United’s attack only troubled Barca keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen once, when Alexis Sanchez was thwarted in the closing stages.
“You know that at this level you cannot slip up and make mistakes and you have to take your chances when you get them,” Solskjaer added.
“We didn’t capitalise on our great start, then they have their first two shots on target, they get two goals then it’s game over. We did well to get here but we could see the difference between the two teams.”