Messi dazzles in Barca win over Liverpool
BARCELONA, Spain (AP):
Lionel Messi hit the 600-goal mark for Barcelona after scoring twice to lead the Spanish club to a 3-0 victory over Liverpool in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final yesterday.
Luis Suárez opened the scoring against his former club in the 26th minute against a Liverpool side that spurned a couple of good chances to equalise during a strong spell after the half-time break. Messi then quashed the comeback effort when he doubled the lead from a rebound with 15 minutes left and followed that up by making it 600 career goals for Barcelona by curling in a perfectly struck free kick in the 82nd.
Liverpool dominated long stretches of the match but failed to finish their chances when they had the hosts on their back foot, especially early in the second half. Mohamed Salah still almost grabbed a valuable away goal for Liverpool late when he hit the post.
Coached by Ernesto Valverde, Barcelona are aiming to replicate the treble of titles they achieved in 2009 under Pep Guardiola in 2015 under Luis Enrique. They clinched the Spanish league title last weekend and play Valencia in the Copa del Rey final on May 25.
Liverpool are trying to reach consecutive Champions League finals after losing last season 3-1 to Real Madrid.
The return leg at Anfield is next Tuesday. In the other semi-final, Ajax won 1-0 at Tottenham in the first leg on Tuesday.
At Camp Nou, Liverpool created an up-tempo, back-and-forth game right from kick-off.
The speed of Salah and Sadio Mane caused Barcelona problems throughout and a flurry of jitters in their backline.
But Messi was a force at the other end, causing Liverpool to bend and almost break on several solo runs right through the heart of their defence until they finally gave way in the final minutes.
Arturo Vidal played the ball across the pitch to Philippe Coutinho, who knocked an innocent-looking pass back to Alba. But the next touch from Alba was a perfectly weighted long pass that was reminiscent of the best assists of former Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez.
The ball skipped past a backtracking Virgil Dan Dijk and met the run of Suárez, who slid and used the tip of his right boot to tuck the ball past goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Mane had a great chance to hit right back in the 35th when he raced past Pique and Roberto to chase down a precise long ball from Henderson, only to volley it high.
Just as Liverpool were playing their best and threatening to equalise, Messi settled the match — and possibly the tie.
His first goal came with a bit of luck after Suárez kneed a volley against the bar and the ball fell straight to Messi, who chested it down and tapped it into an empty net.
The second was spectacular. After he was fouled by Fabinho outside the area, the Argentine forward struck a swerving, left-foot strike past a diving Alisson and into the corner of the net.