What a luxury for Pep Guardiola to have Alexis Sánchez to turn to when his key players are having an off-day, or an off-week in Barcelona’s case. The Chilean striker, signed from Udinese in the summer for €36m (£30m), provided a clinical edge to a misfiring Barcelona, who suffered a shock 3-2 defeat by Osasuna on Saturday. Sánchez broke the deadlock after 41 minutes with a sharp finish, before restoring the visitors’ lead in the 61st minute with a delightful strike. The 23-year-old has scored eight goals in his last nine appearances, underlining his importance to the Catalan side.
Vedran Corluka emerged from the White Hart Lane shadows during the January transfer window and sealed a loan move to the BayArena for the remainder of the season. And the Croatian defender was one of the German side’s best performers against the La Liga champions on Tuesday, limiting the threat of Adriano, while providing the assist for Michal Kadlec’s equaliser. With his days looking to be numbered in London, as Kyle Walker continues to sparkle for Spurs, Germany could be a good fit for Corluka in the long-term.
Questions have been raised over Lionel Messi’s form in recent weeks. The Argentine maestro has scored once in his last three games, and by his high standards, that amounts to a dip. For Barça’s first, the 24-year-old cut open a stubborn Leverkusen defence with a beautiful through-ball, which left Sánchez to with a straightforward finish past Bernd Leno. Messi then came close to extending Barcelona’s lead when his quick change of feet bamboozled two Leverkusen defenders, before his chipped effort bounced off the post. But the forward was not to be denied, and he capped an improved display with his 28th goal in 29 Champions League starts two minutes from time to all but book Barça’s place in the quarter-finals.
Although Guardiola’s squad is filled to the brim with elegant, agile midfielders, it lacks real height and Levekusen looked to expose this weakness. The German side equalised when Kadlec met Corluka’s cross, rising above the Catalan side’s defence to head past Víctor Valdés. Stefan Kiessling came on for the home side as they pressed for a second equaliser in the final 20 minutes, and the physical striker connected with Gonzalo Castro’s cross, but Valdés saved. Barcelona’s weakness looks to be their lack of height, which could well be exposed in the latter stages.
Surprisingly, despite Barcelona’s dominance in the Champions League under Pep Guardiola, the Spanish manager had never won a first leg of a last-16 tie away from home until Tuesday night. That run included 1-1 draws against Lyon and Stuttgart, and last season’s 2-1 defeat by Arsenal at The Emirates. Barça, of course, went on to win the title in 2009 and 2011, so the setbacks failed to halt the Catalan side’s march to glory. This time it’s an unfavourable record that’s broken by this record-breaking team.
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