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Bravo Lionel Messi as English fail on big stage once again

The Verdict

By Steven Beacom

Then there were none. First Liverpool were found wanting in the group stages, that was followed by Chelsea blowing it against 10-man Paris St Germain, Arsenal gambled it all in the second leg in Monaco and lost in the last 16 again and last night Manchester City were dumped by Barcelona in the first knockout round.

All that failure adds up to a big fat zero number of teams from the richest and most hyped division on the planet reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

There are three clubs from Spain (Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid), two from France (PSG and Monaco), one from Germany (Bayern Munich), one from Italy (Juventus) and one from Portugal (Porto) in the final eight.

Not an English side in sight for the second time in three years. In European football, the power lies elsewhere.

If Everton are turned over by Dynamo Kiev tonight in the Europa League, there won't be a single Premier League outfit in continental competition come April. Embarrassing really.

In the Champions League, the four English representatives were often outclassed, sometimes outfought and out thought and on occasion looked out of their depth. Now they are all out of contention for club football's greatest prize, ironically free to focus on making it back next season, when unless there are major improvements, they'll exit early again.

Sky Sports and BT Sport should think about asking for some of their billions back from that new television deal...

The Premier League can be dramatic, but the Champions League has illustrated that compared to what other countries have to offer, at present it lacks the star quality that sets the best apart from the rest.

There was plenty of it on show from Lionel Messi at the Nou Camp last night as City lost 1-0 to Barca and 3-1 on aggregate, piling the pressure on Manuel Pellegrini.

If there is anything more enthralling to watch in sport than Messi at his breathtaking best, please tell me because I want to see it.

What a footballer. He could nutmeg a mermaid! We all marvel at his mesmeric, magical dribbling skills, his exquisite touch, incomparable close control and his awesome goalscoring ability, but because of those qualities his talent to spot a pass can often be overlooked.

City suffered the full range in the first half. From one stunning ball, when Messi displayed the vision of a fighter pilot, Ivan Rakitic profited to score.

As the game progressed the outstanding Joe Hart and the woodwork gave the visitors a glimmer of hope. That light went out though when Sergio Aguero's awful 77th-minute penalty was saved by Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen. A goal then could have led to a tense finish.

The spot-kick wasn't good enough, much like the English teams in the Champions League.

Belfast Telegraph


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