Messi was also instrumental when Barcelona doubled its lead after 20 minutes. He robbed the ball from Cesc Fabregas close to the midfield line, powered his way down the left side of the field, sailing past both Andreas Christensen and César Azpilicueta, and then crossed to Ousmane Dembélé, who was unmarked on the other side of the field after a 60-yard sprint. The young French forward fired a thumping shot past Courtois. It was Dembélé’s first goal for Barcelona, confirming his return to form after a mostly frustrating debut season for the Catalan club in which he was long sidelined by injury problems.
To its credit, Chelsea didn’t surrender to Messi and controlled the game for a long spell after Barcelona’s second goal, with Willian, the Brazilian midfielder, displaying the acceleration and power that made him Chelsea’s biggest threat in the first leg. England’s reigning champions then came close to scoring from a set piece in the final seconds of the first half, when Marcos Alonso curled a free kick above Barcelona’s defensive wall and past the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stengen. The ball clanked into the outside of the post.
At the start of the second half, Chelsea upped the pace and Alonso came close on two more occasions. In the 48th minute, he was stopped by a last-ditch, sliding tackle from Dembélé and a minute later, he had a penalty appeal rejected by the referee, after he pierced Barcelona’s defense and tumbled to the ground when challenged from behind by Gerard Piqué, Barcelona’s towering defender.
As Chelsea continued to push forward, however, it also left itself more vulnerable to another moment of brilliance from Messi. In the 63rd minute, the Argentine finished off a stunning counterattacking move, accelerating past Chelsea’s defenders wide on the left side of the box before cutting back toward Courtois and hitting another low shot through the legs of Chelsea’s hapless keeper.
“It’s a luxury to have Messi on your side,” Valverde told a news conference after the game. “Our attacking play relies on him and he makes any move better.”
In recent years, the duels between Chelsea and Barcelona have produced some of the most thrilling encounters in the Champions League, notably in 2009 and 2012, when the outcome was settled by spectacular late goals. Antonio Rüdiger, the Chelsea defender, smashed a powerful header onto the crossbar in the 89th minute on Wednesday, but by then Messi had killed off any chance of a Chelsea turnaround.
After the final whistle, Antonio Conte, Chelsea’s coach, walked onto the field and congratulated some of Barcelona’s players. His longest embrace, of course, was for Messi. He then escorted Messi to the stadium tunnel, whispering into his ear. Afterward, Conte argued that Chelsea’s exit from the Champions League was perhaps unfair, but settled by Messi.
“It’s right to acknowledge when somebody is a super, super player,” Conte told a news conference. “I was happy to be able to tell Messi how well he played. I repeat: he’s an extraordinary player, the best in the world.”