The UEFA Champions League has reached the business end of the competition. It's knockout football. There is no margin for error, there can be no more slip-ups. Ahead of the round of 16, we take a closer look at how Barcelona made it through the group stage and assess their chances of marching into the quarter-finals.
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
Barca cruised through the group stage, their only blip arriving in Manchester as they threw away a lead to go down 3-1 to former coach Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. They kicked off the campaign with a 7-0 demolition of Celtic at Camp Nou and went on to win five of their six games, hitting 20 goals along the way.
MOST EXCITING MOMENT
Pep came home hoping to take a major step forward with his Manchester City revolution, but the Premier League club were blown out of the water at Camp Nou, as Lionel Messi ran riot with a stunning hat-trick that gave Barca a convincing 4-0 victory. With 11 goals in their opening two matches of the group stage, Barca proved themselves the team to beat.
Man City were the biggest obstacle standing between them and the knockout stage. The 3-1 defeat in Manchester left coach Luis Enrique with lots to ponder. The ease with which Barca ultimately qualified means their greatest challenge is yet to come. Last season, they went out with a whimper at the quarter-final stage, shrugged aside by Atletico Madrid. This year, Barca must prove they are once again among the world’s elite.
Lionel Messi struck a staggering 10 goals in the group stage, leaving himself with a four-goal cushion as the tournament’s leading scorer going into the round of 16. Barca’s talisman, the Argentina international has now hit 93 UCL career goals (two less than leading-scorer Cristiano Ronaldo) and with his MSN colleagues Neymar and Suarez having provided 10 assists between them, few would bet against Messi adding many more in the knockout stage.
CHANCES OF PROGRESSION
Barca meet PSG in the knockout stage for the third time in five seasons, and face a stiff challenge despite the French club’s relative loss of form under new coach Unai Emery. The Blaugrana have a fine record against French opponents, winning 12 and drawing four 21 matches, and were considered favourites, but a devastating 4-0 defeat in last month’s first leg in Paris looks to have ended Barca’s campaign.