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Saturday 16 December 2017

Barca click into gear

Catalans show stuff of champions to draw first blood against Leverkusen

BARCELONA took a step towards the Champions League's quarter-finals with a 3-1 win at Bayer Leverkusen in yesterday's round-of-16 first-leg tie.

The Catalans dominated possession against a Leverkusen side who have now won just one of their last eight games. However, Barcelona, who are 10 points behind leaders Real Madrid in the Spanish league, stumbled at times and Leverkusen squandered chances to earn a draw. Two goals by Chile's Alexis Sanchez and a late strike by Lionel Messi gave Barcelona a valuable away win. Leverkusen defender Michal Kadlec grabbed a consolation goal.

"We are very satisfied with the result because scoring three goals away is very important," said Barca coach Pep Guardiola.

Asked whether he was planning to rest Messi, who has now scored a remarkable 25 goals in his last 24 Champions League matches, Guardiola replied: "Why? People want to see players like him.

"His life is football. He's just happy when he plays."

Barcelona fielded a midfield of Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas behind a forward line containing Brazil's Adriano, Sanchez and Messi.

On a cold night at the BayArena, the Spaniards took most of the first half to warm up with Messi showing only rare flashes of skill early on.

But, with Barcelona enjoying around 80pc of the possession, it was a matter of time before the hosts' defence cracked.

A through ball from Messi saw Sanchez fire past Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno on 41 minutes.

Barcelona's half-time lead was harsh on the hard-working hosts, but with virtually their first full attack of the game, Leverkusen equalised with a header from Kadlec.

Barcelona, however, needed just three minutes to pull ahead again when Sanchez added his second after a ball from Fabregas.

Messi saved the best for last when he finished a great cross from Alves for the third on 88 minutes.

In the night's other game, Lyon overcame APOEL Nicosia's tight defence, with a second-half goal by Alexandre Lacazette giving the French side a narrow 1-0 advantage.

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