Brilliant Barca Still the Team To Beat As They Brush Aside Stuttgart
Forget Manchester United's 4-0 thumping of AC Milan. Forget Arsenal cruising to a 5-0 win over Porto. Forget Jose Mourinho masterminding Inter Milan's victory over Chelsea. On Wednesday night, Barcelona demonstrated why they are still the team to beat.
Last year's Champions League winners brushed aside Stuttgart 4-0 at the Nou Camp to reassert their claim to be Europe's number one, with Lionel Messi again the star.
From start to finish, Barcelona controlled the game, and Stuttgart were unable to get close to their illustrious opponents. Stuttgart were dominant in Germany a fortnight ago, but could not contend with the Catalans on their home turf.
Yaya Toure was instrumental in the middle of the park, breaking up Stuttgart attacks with ease. His distribution was excellent all night, and it was his pass that led to the first goal.
Toure found Messi just inside their opponents half, and the Argentine superstar did the rest. Immediately turning to run at the Stuttgart defence, he ran, untouched to the edge of the area, before unleashing an unstoppable left foot drive into Jens Lehmann's top corner.
If the Nou Camp was noisy before, things suddenly got a little louder.
While Messi's finish was sublime, you do have to question the wisdom of allowing the Argentine the time and space he was afforded. Stuttgart had plenty of opportunities to stop the chance, and were punished for their inability to do so.
If the first goal was an exceptional individual effort, the second was a perfect example of Barcelona's fluidity and beautiful football. Messi found Toure in space with an incisive pass through the defence, and the Ivorian squared the ball for Pedro to slot home Lehmann's empty net.
With the two-goal lead at half time, the game was all but over. Unfortunately for Stuttgart, the Catalans hadn't quite finished. After a wonderful break down the right, Pedro played in Dani Alves, who in turn back-heeled the ball onto Messi. Again, the winger took sight of Lehmann's goal, turning on a whim before firing into the bottom corner of the German's goal.
Messi continued to torment his opponents and had a great chance to complete his hat-trick. Having glided past several defenders, his finishing finally let him down, as he chipped the ball just wide of the Stuttgart goal.
Barcelona took the opportunity to make some changes, and it was their final change that led to their final goal. Bojan came on for Iniesta with two minutes remaining, and within moments had added a fourth with his first touch of the game. A perfect through ball from Ibrahimovic allowed Bojan to pass the ball around the onrushing Lehmann to add further gloss to an exceptional night for Barca.
Following impressive performances from several sides in this round of the Champions League, it was left to the final round of matches to see what the holders were made of. They didn't disappoint.
Cruising past respectable opposition without any trouble at all, Barcelona let the rest of Europe know that they mean business. And the remaining teams will be desperate to avoid the Catalans when the draw for the quarterfinals is made on Friday.
Barcelona again demonstrate why they believe they are the best team in Europe, and on this form, nobody would like to argue.
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