On Tuesday in Moscow, FC Barcelona was hoping to put the embarrassment in Glasgow behind them and take a positive step along the road to Wembley. Vilanova fielded a strong first eleven, taking no chances against Unai Emery’s side. The conditions were freezing and the grass artificial but after Celtic’s heroics two weeks ago – the chance of an upset was real.
Pedro was unlucky not to score in the eleventh minute when a deft long range chip was caught beautifully on the Canarian’s chest before being denied by a point blank save. It was Alves however who opened the account on the quarter hour mark after Messi twisted and turned in the square. The ball bobbled out to Alves outside the box who drilled a first time half volley into the bottom corner. The Brazilian right back bellowed in triumph, sending a message to the bench that Montoya can make himself comfortable on the sideline.
With the clock ticking towards the half hour mark Messi slid a slick pass to Iniesta cutting in from the left side. Iniesta moved the ball to his right foot but his shot was well saved. The rebound fell to Messi whose right shot volley bounced into the net for his 79th goal of the calendar year. Barcelona dominated possession as per usual with Moscow always looking dangerous on the counter attack, but their finishing let them down time and time again. Pedro thought he had a penalty before the break after rounding the keeper and eating dirt but the referee reached for his yellow card for diving.
Pedro didn’t sulk however and was on hand for a delicious defense splitting pass for Messi moments later, who left defenders in his wake and rounded the keeper before tapping into the empty net. Eighty goals to his name and it wasn’t even half time yet. On a cold night in Moscow Barcelona was on fire. The Russians ran to the tunnel at the break hoping that this game wasn’t going to get any more Messi.
Barcelona began the second half in cruise control and seemed content with the three goal cushion. They tipped the ball around the park at their leisure and it was Spartak who should be credited with the more attacking mentality. Emery tried a double substitution throwing Welliton and Jano Ananidze onto the park in the place of Kombarov and Emenike. Alex Song came on for Xavi with ten minutes on the clock. Soon after Messi latched onto a sloppy back pass and rounded the keeper but couldn’t complete his hat trick in the 82nd minute.
Gerard Deulofeu was handed eight minutes to prove himself after Pedro was subbed off after another good performance. He will, however, be frustrated to have let another game slip by without a goal. Montoya came on for Jordi Alba for a cameo role at the end with Vilanova content to blood youngsters with the points secured. Mascherano was given a harsh yellow card for a challenge just before the 90th minute but there was little in the way of excitement in the second half as Barça eased through into the next round without breaking much of a sweat.
Image: Misha Japaridze – AP