Barca beat brave Bayer
Barcelona took control of their Champions League last 16 tie with Leverkusen following a 3-1 win.
By Jamie Casey
Last Updated: 14/02/12 11:25pm
Barcelona took control of their Uefa Champions League second-round tie with Bayer Leverkusen following a 3-1 win in Germany.
Amid a fairly uneventful first-half, Alexis Sanchez handed the holders a half-time lead with a cool finish on 41 minutes after Lionel Messi exploited a gap in the Leverkusen defence.
The Bundesliga side emerged from the break with fresh wind in their sails, though, and levelled the scoring seven minutes into the second-half through Michal Kadlec.
It was short-lived, however, as Chilean Sanchez grabbed his second of the night on 55 minutes after rounding Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno and slotting into an empty net.
The hosts continued their spirited second-half display, and Gonzalo Castro almost produced another equaliser, only to see Victor Valdes push his effort onto the post.
Barcelona proved too powerful in the end, with Messi grabbing the goal his performance merited after a clever link up play with Dani Alves two minutes from time.
Leverkusen, hit heavily by injury, set up to defend against a Barcelona side that was missing Xavi Hernandez.
The result was a fairly drab opening, with a Dani Alves free-kick, sent waywardly over the bar, the sole chance in the opening quarter of an hour.
Daniel Schwaab made a fine intervention to prevent Messi nipping in for an easy close-range chance, before Adriano curled a shot well wide from the left channel with openings hard to come by.
Andre Schurrle fluffed Leverkusen's only half-chance of the first 45 minutes, totally miskicking when the ball sat up invitingly on the edge of the area.
Messi was doing his best to wriggle through the Leverkusen defence, but could not get enough power on a shot through Schwaab's legs from a difficult angle.
However, the Argentinian was the provider for the opening goal, flicking a pass over the defence that had Alexis and Cesc Fabregas scampering after it.
Alexis won the debate between the two and slipped it through the legs of the advancing Bernd Leno and into the bottom corner.
With their containment strategy undone, Leverkusen looked much more positive to start the second half, with Manuel Friedrich having an early chance when Puyol's header fell for him at the far post, but he could not stretch far enough to turn it goalwards.
They were level in the 52nd minute as Vedran Corluka was allowed the time to cross from a tight position, standing the ball up for Kadlec to head in.
But parity lasted only four minutes before Alexis got his second, latching on to a wonderful threaded ball from Fabregas to round the goalkeeper and finish.
Moments later, a defensive mix-up gave Renato Augusto another chance for the hosts, but his shot was straight at Victor Valdes.
Then, in the 64th minute, Castro raced onto the ball and powered a low shot at goal, but Valdes tipped it onto the post.
Messi was the next to find the woodwork, racing in from the right wing and then dinking a shot over the onrushing Leno from a tight angle, only to see it come back off the upright.
Leverkusen introduced Stefan Kiessling from the bench and he almost had an immediate impact, stooping to head Castro's curling cross goalwards and forcing Valdes into a good save on the line.
Leno was then called on to make a fine save and deny Alexis a hat-trick as he sent a diving header goalwards.
But Barca got what could be a killer third goal two minutes from time, with Messi the creator and finisher as he slipped Dani Alves through and the Brazilian selflessly squared for the Argentinian to find the net with an aerial volley.