Barça closed the group stage of the Champions League with a goalless draw against Benfica, a game marred by an injury to Messi
This should have been a night of celebration for Leo Messi as he closed in on Gerd Muller’s scoring record, but it ended badly with the injury to the World Number One. Messi had started on the bench and Tito Villanova didn’t bring him on until after the break. Shortly afterwards, the Argentinean had to come off with a knee injury. Before Messi’s appearance, Pinto had been the centre of attention with a series of saves that helped ensure the Portuguese team bowed out of the Champions League.
Tito Vilanova fielded a new look team, with Adriano slotting in at centre half, Villa as a traditional centre forward and four B team youngsters starting the game - Planas, Sergi Roberto, Rafinha and Tello. Even so, this was a side playing the Barça way, though they dominated possession deeper than usual in response to Benfica’s advanced position. The Portuguese team, with a strong wind at their backs, ceded the initiative and looked to pounce on the counter – something that nearly paid dividends on 11 minutes when Lima made a break that ended with his shoot going just wide with only Pinto to beat.
Lima had another good chance soon after with a header and the Portuguese team’s superior height – particularly from their two big centre halves – made them a constant threat. Barça were being pinned back into their own half, though they continued to dominate possession and their only chance before the break fell to Tello on 24 minutes, but the keeper kept him out.
The game was really opening up though and Lima again came close, with his shot just parried onto the post by Pinto, who soon after again saved the day with a stop from John, as Barça found it hard to connect to their front men and dominate the game.
Messi comes on
The second half began with chances for Nolito and Villa, as Barça focussed their attacks down the left through Tello. The hosts upped their intensity and just before the hour mark Messi was sent on to a rousing reception from the Camp Nou crowd. Benfica could only respond by increasing their aggression as they grew increasingly frustrated.
With the game now being played in the Benfica half, Messi’s influence was clear to see and the visitors’ coach Jorge Jesús was forced to make a couple of defensive substitutions, with one eye on the score in Glasgow, whilst Piqué came on to stiffen the back line and help improve Barça’s ability to bring the ball out from the back.
The drama came on 84 minutes when Piqué fed Messi with a great long ball, the Argentinean tried to go round the keeper, but appeared to twist his knee. Even though he managed to get a shot off, Messi fell to the ground, clearly in great pain and was carried off on a stretcher – the worst possible end to great group stage from Barça.