Barcelona need a Messi miracle to beat Bayern... but new Champions League format could help

Ben Hayward
·3-min read

Barcelona had to wait 165 days for their Champions League second leg against Napoli, but effectively wrapped up the tie inside 45 minutes on Saturday night.

Like so many times in the past, a potential banana skin was negotiated thanks to the brilliance of Lionel Messi. The Argentine did fall over, but picked himself back up again to score a wonder goal in what was perhaps a metaphor for Barca over the last year or two.

Certainly it was the kind of moment which would have had fans purring in approval at Camp Nou. In this new normal of post-pandemic football, though, none were there to appreciate it.

Messi's superb strike, which saw him dig a shot out of nothing from a falling position after he had already gone down, got up again and continued his run through a crowd of defenders, also served as a reminder that with Leo, anything is possible.

That feeling persisted against Napoli as the Barca captain brilliantly brought down a cross from the impressive Frenkie de Jong and converted at the far post, only to see VAR rule it his effort out for a questionable handball decision, and then won a penalty which Luis Suarez converted to make it 3-0 at the end of the first half.

Earlier, the rock-solid Clement Lenglet had headed Barca into the lead from a corner to score his first Champions League goal for the Catalan club. And although Lorenzo Insigne pulled one back from penalty spot in added time at the end of the first half and Napoli pressed forward after the interval, the result was never really in doubt.

Messi's flame flickered out in a much more subdued second half, perhaps with the Argentine feeling the effects of the knock he took when he was brought down by Kalidou Koulibaly for the penalty.

"It was a heavy blow," coach Quique Setien said later. "I thought he looked OK. We will have to treat him to ensure there is no problem."

They will. Barcelona advance to the final phase of the competition in Lisbon after their 4-2 aggregate victory and will meet the only other previous winners still left in, Bayern Munich, in a one-off match next Friday.

For once, Barca will not be among the favourites to win it – especially given Bayern's formidable form which continued as the Bavarians battered Chelsea 4-1 on Saturday to complete a 7-1 aggregate win.

The last time Barcelona won the Champions League was in 2015 and that triumph included a Messi masterclass versus Bayern in the semi-finals.

This time, they might need a Messi miracle.

"It's going to be very difficult," Setien said. "They finished off their tie with seven goals. They are a fantastic team and we will see a great game."

Thankfully for Barca, Messi avoided a yellow card which would have seen him suspended for the meeting with Bayern. As usual, he will carry their hopes in Friday's quarter-final.

And as Suarez hinted after the match, this year's format change due to Covid-19 makes it more open.

"In a one-off match, anyone has a chance," he said. "They are a great opponent, one of the candidates [to win the trophy], just like all eight teams in Lisbon. But you have play the games."

Sergio Busquets and Arturo Vidal will be back from suspension, while youngsters Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati surely must play some part after not even making it off the bench on Saturday and fit-again Ousmane Dembele will be a wildcard after nine months out.

Bayern's high tempo will provide the sternest of tests and the German champions look significantly stronger than this battle-weary Barca side, but moments so often decide these ties and the presence of Messi means there is always a chance.

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