An early goal scored by Lionel Messi helped calm any Barcelona nerves after the tie hung in the balance following the 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea grew into the game, playing as well as anyone else has managed at the Camp Nou this season, but will have been disappointed when more Messi magic exploited a loose ball in midfield, allowing him to assist Ousmane Dembele’s first goal, scored on 20 minutes.
Still, Chelsea’s heads did not drop, and they looked determined to stretch the game and come from behind to score two away goals, just as they did in 2012. They put Barcelona under pressure, but with some last-ditch blocking from Samuel Umtiti and Gerard Pique, they were kept at bay.
Their night was done when Messi drove forward and slotted through Courtois’ legs a second time to make it 3-0.
Here are five things we learned…
1 Barcelona are exceptional mortals
Under Pep Guardiola, and at times under his successors Tito Vilanova and Luis Enrique, Barcelona played a brand of football seen never before.
The intricacy of their passing, the intelligence of the movement, the ability to dictate a game entirely within their opponents half earned them fans around the world and redefined how we watch football today.
Ernesto Valverde’s Barcelona do not play that brand of football. They now play the same sport as the mere mortals they compete with, but it so happens they’re exceptionally good at that too.
This was clear against Chelsea. They played in a 4-4-2. Ousmane Dembele, played like an old school winger, hugging the by-line and coming back to make decisive tackles.
The centre-halves didn’t spend the game camped up the pitch, ready to spring into action, but doing actual, traditional defending. Grafting, tackling, blocking. They were titanic and Samuel Umtiti is becoming one of the world’s finest centre backs.
Ahead, Messi is an amalgam of peak Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff and Xavi and every bit as good as that sounds.
2 Off night for Courtois shouldn't put suitors off
Chelsea’s ability to regenerate, collecting trophies despite sacking manager after manager, is quite remarkable. But replacing a coach as brilliant as Antonio Conte won’t be easy, and Chelsea now face greater riches in Manchester, and exciting projects, with young and hungry players at Liverpool and Tottenham.
There will be natural doubts about Chelsea’s ability to roll with the punches this time around, even from within the squad. Their most outstanding individuals, most notably Eden Hazard, could be forgiven for wanting an exit strategy when the club doesn’t show the vision or forward planning of their rivals.
On his day, Thibaut Courtois is one such individual. At his very best, he’s up there with the best goalkeepers in Europe, and has been brilliant in three title-winning seasons in the last five years, especially for Atletico Madrid in 2013.
This was not a night to savour for the Belgian, nutmegged twice by Lionel Messi. The Argentinian is a player who regularly makes fools of kings, however.
Such a performance against their rivals might not endear him to Real Madrid, but Courtois can be confident a different European superpower would want his services. PSG are reportedly in the market for a goalkeeper, and Courtois is too good not to be playing Champions League football.
3 Ousmane ready for the run-in
When signed, it was thought that Ousmane Dembele would nominally replace Neymar in a forward three, not risking the 4-3-3 that has become sacrosanct and synonymous with Barcelona’s domination.
After going unbeaten in the league all season, and progressing without too much trouble in both cups, Valverde had come up a system that works, but it involved Paulinho playing in a 4-4-2, allowing Barcelona extra protection in defence.
Largely absent through injury, Dembele has contributed little this season. It was thought his inclusion alone would endanger the balance that Valverde has done so well to cultivate.
When Dembele was named here, it was seen as a bold and exciting risk. But in reality it risked nothing, he played as a winger, still in a midfield four, with Busquets and Rakitic screening the defence.
There were two outstanding moments for him. First, was the goal, his first for Barcelona. Collecting the cut-back from Messi, he had the confidence to take a touch and then the ability to drive in hard on his weak foot past Courtois.
The second was when he ran back, sliding in cleanly to take the ball from Marcos Alonso who was about to shoot. It was like the tenacious, body-on-the-line contribution that Javier Mascherano used to make at the Camp Nou.
On this evidence, the 20-year-old Dembele is a very welcome and important addition to Valverde's side.
4 FA Cup becomes vital
The overnight demolition of an empire as directed by David Moyes. The total implosion suffered under Jose Mourinho two years ago. Leicester City descending back to earth.
Chelsea’s underwhelming campaign is the new normal. But it should not be acceptable.
Viewed from a wider lens, back to a time before such bonkers occurrences, it’s a quite spectacular failure, from champions of England to not even contesting their crown, exiting early from Europe and unlikely to play Champions League football next season. Only an FA Cup could help savage something from this campaign now.
There’s a nice symmetry here. Spurs and Manchester United also exited the Champions League at this stage, so the FA Cup takes on a greater importance.
Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City, all of whom suffered humiliating early knockouts in the FA Cup, will still have ambitions of a European trophy.
For the big six, there might not be a lot to play for in the league (though Chelsea will harbour hopes of catching the top four) but the cups offer a lot of excitement.
Leicester away is not the ideal draw after a gruelling visit to the Camp Nou. Chelsea will have their work cut out.
5 Barcelona issue statement
On their way to the Champions League in 2009, Barcelona put five goals past Lyon at this stage at the Camp Nou, before scoring four against Bayern Munich in the next round.
In 2011, they responded to losing away to Arsenal with a 3-1 win at the Camp Nou, before putting five past Shakhtar Donetsk in the quarter-finals.
In 2015, they hit 13 goals past three domestic Champions and powerhouses in the knockout rounds: Bayern Munich, PSG and Manchester City.
Scoring three against Chelsea, who largely performed well over both legs, felt like them laying down a marker. Another statement of intent for the trophy.
Unbeaten in the league, with their defence as solid as it is, and Messi as capable as ever of creating magic, they will fancy their chances against any opponent in the next round.
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