Barcelona vs. Bayer Leverkusen: Barca Cements Status as Europe's Top Dog

Tom Kinslow@@TomKinslowFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2012

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 07:  Seydou Keita of FC Barcelona congratulates Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona after Lionel Messi scored his team's seventh goal during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between FC Barcelona and Bayern 04 Leverkusen at Camp Nou on March 7, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. FC Barcelona won 7-1 and Lionel Messi scored 5 goals.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Less than 24 hours after AC Milan held on by the slimmest of margins against Arsenal, Barcelona showed how you should close out a fixture in the Champions League.

The defending European champions walked into the second leg against Bayer Leverkusen holding a commanding 3-1 lead and from the opening whistle, and Barca came out firing on all cylinders. When it was all said and done, the Nou Camp was rocking, and Lionel Messi had cemented his status as the beautiful game's greatest prodigy.

Barcelona advanced 10-2 on aggregate, and it was capped off with Messi's fifth goal, a Champions League record. For all of Barca's struggles in La Liga this season, a repeat performance in Europe's top competition is the clear goal for the club, and it doesn't look like anyone can stop them.

The Blaugrana played vintage Barcelona football and ripped Leverkusen to shreds as their star buried the fixture in a 24-minute span in the first half. Messi walked into the dressing room at half time with a brace in his back pocket, and the visitors were dazed, confused and defeated.

It only got worse from there as Barcelona put forth the most dominant performance from any of Europe's top sides as they sent a message to any doubters out there who might have thought that their shortcomings in La Liga were a sign of vulnerability. 

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MARCH 07:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (L) celebrates with his teammate Christian Tello of FC Barcelona after scoring his fifth goal, seventh of FC Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between FC Barc
David Ramos/Getty Images

Leverkusen were heartless, toothless and broken as the Blaugrana went into overdrive, with Messi behind the wheel as he flashed his entire skill set, which dazzled spectators and befuddled opposing defenders. The Argentinan was a red and blue blur, and when the dust settled, his performance was indicative of the club's intent in Europe.

With Barca 10 points back of arch-rival Real Madrid on the league table, Messi and company are well aware that the Champions League is their last chance for glory. When you factor in highly-publicized summer signings like Cesc Fabregas, a failure to repeat as champions, coupled with Los Blancos winning the league crown, would represent a massive failure.

Barcelona have poured their heart and soul into the competition, and it showed on Wednesday night, as they refused to relent, cutting through the Leverkusen defense and finishing with ruthless intent. With each goal, the Blaugrana smiled with amusement, basking in their ability to score at will.

With England's top sides all but buried in the Champions League (only Chelsea remains, trailing 3-1 to Napoli), and few football powerhouses left in the knockout stages, the competition has become Barcelona's to lose.

After what we saw on Wednesday, there is no reason to believe that Messi won't be standing on a podium in June with a Champions League medal around his neck.

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