Lionel Messi scored two outstanding goals and set up Neymar to add another in injury time as Barcelona handed Bayern Munich and former coach Pep Guardiola a 3-0 defeat in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday. Not even the coach who helped Messi become one of the best to play the game could find a way of stopping the prolific forward from scoring his record 76th and 77th goals in the competition. Messi rifled a left-footed strike between Manuel Neuer and the post in the 77th, and three minutes later brought defender Jerome Boateng to the turf before chipping the goalkeeper. Messi was in inspired form from the start, and rounded off by providing the pass for Neymar to race away and score in stoppage time.
Thomas Vermaelen had yet to make his debut for La Blaugrana since his arrival from Arsenal last summer but was given the green light to take his place on the bench for the first time this evening. Elsewhere, Luis Enrique stuck with Marc-Andre Ter Stegen , an ever present in the Champions League this season, between the sticks, while the rest of the team was the one which demolished Cordoba 8-0 in La Liga. The visitors, meanwhile, started three Spaniards at Camp Nou , former Valencia left-back Juan Bernat, ex-Real Madrid and European champion Xabi Alonso and the returning Thiago Alcantara in a much-changed XI from the 2-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen, with eight new additions in total, including Robert Lewandowski, who wore a protective mask. Both sidesa last meeting came in the Champions League semi-finals of two years ago, when Bayern thrashed Barca 7-0 on aggregate to set up an all-German final with Borussia Dortmund at Wembley, but Wednesdaya s rematch was a far-more open affair, with the two teams going at each other from the off to make for a hugely-enthralling spectacle.
Bayern coach Pep Guardiola sprang a major surprise in the opening minutes by trying to contain Barcelonaa s free-scoring attack with a three-man defence tasked with man-marking Luis Suarez, Messi and Neymar. However, the visitors were grateful to goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for keeping them in the tie in the opening 15 minutes, with the ever-alert Germany international racing off his line after just 12 minutes to block Suarez’s goal-bound effort with his feet. Two minutes later Barca again came desperately close to opening the scoring when Suarez nipped in ahead of Jerome Boateng in the Bayern penalty area, before firing a dangerous ball across the six-yard box for Neymar to toe-poke goalwards – only to see it deflected behind for a corner by Rafinha. Guardiola switched to a back four during the first half and striker Robert Lewandowski – wearing a mask to protect his broken nose and cheekbone a really should have put them ahead after 18 minutes, only to stab his close-range shot wide of Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s far post after fine approach play by Thomas Muller. Thomas Muller found space on the right and played it across the six-yard box for Lewandowski, who was in acres of space, but it was just out of reach for the Poland international. Five minutes before the break Neuer was once again at his best to deny Dani Alves with a point-blank block at the far post and somehow keep it goalless after a breathless 45 minutes.
The two sides took a 0-0 draw into the break but it was only a matter of time before Barcelona would wear the German defense down. The home side moved up yet another gear as they sought to press home their territorial advantage and take a crucial lead with them into the second leg at the Allianz Arena. However, as hard as they pushed, Barcelona struggled to find a way past Neuer, who was in imperious form between the sticks for the Bundesliga champions until the last quarter of an hour of the contest. Messi unleashed a powerful drive from just outside the box after a give-and-go exchange with Neymar during one such surge upfield, but Neuer gathered cleanly. And the German justified his “sweeper-keeper” nickname around the hour-mark, when he raced well off his line to thwart Neymar from a ball over the top. With just 13 minutes left to play, the home side finally got the goal their pressure and build-up play warranted as both Dani Alves and then Suarez worked the ball to Messi on the right edge of the penalty area and the quick-footed playmaker beat Neuer with a fiercely-struck low shot at his near post. Then came the killer second goal three minutes later as Messi firstly sat Boateng on his backside in the box, before keeping his composure to dink the ball brilliantly over Neuera s head and move back ahead of Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo in the all-time Champions League goalscoring charts. However, if that strike was damaging enough for Bayern, then Neymara s goal in the fourth minute of stoppage time may well have ended this tie as a contest, with the Brazil international given acres of space to race on to Messia s through-ball and beat the helpless Neuer.
Guardiola was right about Messi when he said that no defensive system can stop him when he is in form. If his first goal was good, his second was sublime, as he showed his old boss what he’s been missing for the past three years. Guardiola made a blunder by starting with a back three to counter Messi-Suarez-Neymar strikeforce. He quickly reverted to a back four but that tactical mistake would have been punished had it not been for the brilliance of Manuel Neuer. Whether Pep’s formation switch was reactive or not, Bayern would surely have found themselves going into the half-time dressing room in disarray had it not been for the man between the sticks. His positioning during the early onslaught was near perfect, as he quickly cut off angles to deny Suarez a number of times, as was his bravery and speed off his line. Neuer may be the finest goalkeeper in the game right now, he ended up losing his personal duel with Lionel Messi. But he isn’t the first, and he won’t be the last. Pep Guardiola, the Barca legend was making his first trip back to the Nou Camp and he was unable to stop the juggernaut that he created. It was a special moment for Coach Luis Enrique, whose team saw off his mentor Guardiola.