6 Things We Learned from Champions League Last-16 Second Leg: Messi Is Boss
The four teams that were widely expected to progress to the quarter-finals from this week's set of Champions League fixtures all completed the job without too much drama.
Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Atletico Madrid all built on positive first-leg results to earn wins in their respective round of 16 ties.
Some fixtures were more one-sided than others, but as always, there were interesting points to be taken from all of them.
Here are six things we learned from this week's games.
Diego Costa Hasn't Lost His Mojo
There were mixed reviews of Diego Costa's much-anticipated Spain debut against Italy last week, but the Brazil-born striker was back to his destructive best for Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Paul Logothetis of the Associated Press (via The Washington Times) summed up Costa's quiet night for Spain:
Overcome by nerves before his Spain debut, Diego Costa did little to shake them with his performance in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Italy...
...But the Brazilian-born striker - a naturalized Spanish citizen - lacked his usual confidence on touch.
"The first game is not easy,” Diego Costa said. “I’m happy, but I know I can give a lot more. I can bring my qualities with Atletico to the team."
This perceived lack of confidence did not carry over to club football, where the 25-year-old hit man was typically clinical against an overwhelmed Milan side in Atletico's 4-1 win.
Costa scored a terrific brace against the Italians to prove he has not been affected by the criticism from some quarters.
Schweinsteiger Is Building Nicely Toward the World Cup
Bayern Munich talisman Bastian Schweinsteiger made his comeback from a three-month ankle injury in mid-February, and Germany fans will be pleased to note that he is gradually playing himself back to his imperial best.
He was the dominant player in Bayern's 1-1 draw with Arsenal, helping himself to a goal and bossing the midfield as he has done so many times before for club and country.
The 29-year-old is the kind of player who can inspire World Cup wins, so it's critical for Germany that he is fit and firing in June.
Kaka Is a Champions League Legend
In what may have been his last ever appearance in Europe's elite club competition, Kaka confirmed his status of one of the competition's true greats by notching his 30th goal.
Milan are unlikely to qualify for the Champions League next season, so if the South American remains with the Rossoneri, it will be at least another two seasons before he gets a chance to light up the tournament again.
Kaka became the first Brazilian to reach the 30-goal mark in the UEFA Champions League with his headed goal in the 27th minute that temporarily dragged his team back into the tie.
His all-round performance was a notch above the rest of his teammates as well, proving that true class is eternal.
Don't Mess with Messi
Certain sections of the Spanish press have been running an angle lately that Barcelona star Lionel Messi is struggling for form.
Sergi Font of Marca, for example, had this to say last week:
One of the biggest worries at Can Barça right now is Messi. The Argentine is a shadow of his former self and he has struggled for form since he returned from injury.
He returned from Argentina after the Christmas holidays in great form and looked to be back at his best, scoring four goals against Getafe over both legs of Barça's last sixteen Spanish Cup tie against the Madrid side.
Since then, very little. 'La Pulga' has only scored one league goal so far this year. The goal, against Valencia at the Camp Nou came from the penalty spot and counted for nothing because Barca ended up losing (3-2).
The Argentina captain has a habit of making his critics eat humble pie, however, and in Barcelona's 2-1 win over Manchester City at the Camp Nou, he put in a brilliant shift to prove that concerns over his form are unfounded.
Aside from his dinked goal, Messi was clinical and creative with his passes, making City's big defenders look silly on several occasions by running around them like they weren't even there.
PSG Can Look Like They're Not Really Trying and Still Win
The one tie in this week's set of Champions League fixtures that did not hold any realistic chance of being turned around was Paris Saint-Germain versus Bayer Leverkusen, which was virtually over after the first leg.
The French side demolished Leverkusen 4-0 in the first leg in Germany and thus had little left to do in the second half of the tie on Wednesday.
There was certainly less intensity in Paris than in all of the other matches, and at times PSG appeared to be going through the motions.
Nevertheless, they managed to overturn an early deficit to notch another win, downing their unfortunate opponents 2-1 to complete a 6-1 aggregate drubbing.
The Champions League Is Still the Pinnacle of Football
Excitement is building for the Brazil 2014 World Cup, and rightly so.
That tournament remains the most prestigious in football, and winning it is the dream of almost every footballer around the globe.
The Champions League encounter between Barcelona and Manchester City on Wednesday, as well as several other of the round of 16 ties, showed us why that competition has become so widely followed.
The quality on display all over the pitch was nothing short of astounding, with both sides boasting squads of exceptional ability.
It is arguably the highest standard of football in the world and should be appreciated as such.