Preamble Hello. How many times have you seen your favourite film? Unless your answer is 'once', you'll probably agree that visual entertainment doesn't always need suspense. This includes of football. Not enough people appreciate the joy of watching old games in their entirety (the Spar ready meal for one and scalding tears of regret are optional). Sometimes, similarly, a live game can be alluring even if there's a complete lack of suspense.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying: Barcelona, 3-1 up from the away leg, are approximately 100.00000000 per cent certain to finish the job against Bayer Leverkusen tonight, but there is still good reason to be excited about this match.
We should enjoy this Barcelona side while we can, before Jose Mourinho reduces the entire club to a whimpering mess, precipitating a meltdown in which Pep Guardiola signs Mick Harford and asks Dave Bassett to marry him in a shambling post-match interview. They are maybe the most beautiful side ever to play this football thing, so think of each game as a gift, in which you get to marvel at the joy of Cesc; the Messianic brilliance; the Xavirotica; and, er, Carles Puyol. More importantly, every time you press F5 we become slightly more attractive to advertisers!
Kick off is at 7.45pm
I wonder if Xavi has any ham tonight? In the 1984-85 Cup Winners' Cup, with Barcelona 4-2 ahead from the away leg against Metz, their midfield star Bernd Schuster said he would "give the Metz players some ham when they come to our place to thank them for the presents that they give us tonight". You don't need me to tell you what happened next.
One of the sad things about media training and all that is that players no longer come out with hilarious pre-match trash talk. Before Germany played unfancied Algeria in the 1982 World Cup, one German player promised to "dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs". Yep, Algeria won 2-1. Bring back trash talk!
Barcelona (4-2-1-3) Valdes; Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Adriano; Xavi, Busquets; Fabregas; Pedro, Messi, Iniesta.
Subs: Pinto, Keita, Muniesa, Sergi, Bartra, Tello, Cuenca.
Bayer Leverkusen (4-2-3-1) Leno; Castro, Schwaab, Toprak, Kadlec; Bender, Rolfes; Reinartz, Kiessling, Renato Augusto; Derdiyok.
Subs: Giefer, Oczipka, Friedrich, Schurrie, Ortega, Zenga, Bellarabi.
Referee Svein Oddvar Moen (Norway).
This is wonderful: some footage of Lionel Messi before he was famous. Including a mesmeric 50-yard solo run. When he was six years old.
Barcelona's home record this season P21 W18 D3 L0 F81 A11. You've got to feel sorry for the very young Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno, and not only if you want to shoehorn in a half-arsed Royksopp reference by calling him poor Leno.
The players are in the tunnel. Leverkusen need snookers, and the match hasn't even started.
Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you try to be like the man in the movies? (Thanks to Neill Brown for the link.)
1 min Leverkusen assume the position from right to left. They are in white; Barcelona are a blur of red and blue.
2 min "A serious blemish on aforementioned beauty is the presence of Pedro 'rubbish touch for a tidy fella' Rodriguez, running about like a headless chicken sniffing for goals (doesn't make visual sense, I know, but there's a deeper truth in this image)," says Phil Podolsky. "Has there been a less classy player in Barcelona attack in recent memory? Even Guily was a better footballer, though shorn of Pedro's main strength, finishing." Wait till Pep signs Mick Harford and John Fashanu.
3 min Nothing has happened yet. On nights like these, when they fail to break through in the first 180 seconds, you do wonder whether Barcelona need a plan B, a Harford or a Fashanu.
4 min Dani Alves, chased Benny Hill-style by Kiessling, runs right across his own six-yard box with the ball.
5 min "Interested to know if you think beating Barca by two away is the proverbial 'bigger ask' than beating Milan at home by four," says Gordon Struth. Oh definitely. Arsenal had a 2-3 per cent chance of victory; Leverkusen have a 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000001 per cent chance, if that.
6 min Busquets is fouled just outside the area, a fair way to the left. Messi scored an awesome goal from this angle recently, against Atletico Madrid, but this time it's Xavi to take. His free kick is deflected off the wall for a corner, which produces the square root of eff all.
7 min "I love stats," says Ian McCourt, idly perusing his page 3 archive. "Messi has played 149 games at Camp Nou and scored 124 goals. #Fact." Watch those hashtags, McCourt.
8 min Leverkusen touch the ball. Okay, it's a flick on from a punt forward by the keeper, but every touch counts.
11 min Leno makes a fine save from Messi to keep the score level. Messi ran down the right side of the box onto a lovely scooped pass from Fabregas, chested the ball down and raked a half-volley towards the near post that was beaten away by Leno. The rebound came to Pedro, whose 10-yard shot was desperately blocked by the sliding Castro. Superb defending.
12 min Rolfes is booked for a cynical tug on Iniesta. Xavi curls the resulting free-kick a couple of yards over the bar. Leno had it covered.
14 min "Watching that Messi video I was struck by two things," says Elliot Carr-Barnsley. "One, that Leo has EXACTLY the same grin as Christian Bale c.Harsh Times, and Two, that he's not prone to flashiness, is he? He does spectacular things in an unspectacular way; he gets things done. Would it be asking too much for a bit more Ronaldinho/Cantona etc in his play?" I know what you mean, although football genius has always been deceptively efficient. And that goal against Arsenal last year was as imaginative as anything you'll see for many a year.
16 min Barcelona are tiki-takaing the life out of Leverkusen, imperceptibly taking complete control of the game as they so often do between the 11th and 20th minutes.
17 min If you could pick one player in the history of the game to improve this Barcelona team, who would it be and why? It's tempting to pick a great keeper, but could Schmeichel/Yashin/whoever play football in the way that Valdes does? That's a pretty important requirement of a Barcelona keeper. Equally, many of history's great individual players would be too, well, individual for this side. Nilton Santos maybe?
19 min After a decent move involving Rolfes and Renato Augusto, Rolfes's long-range shot is blocked by Busquets.
20 min "Can't open the video of Messi that you posted here in the U.S," says George Demas. "There is a video on YouTube showing Messi at the age of five. Assuming it's the same one, it is amazing how focused he was even then." That's not quite the same one – this clip included him at the age of six, beating 74 boys and scoring – but they are equally scary.
23 min Iniesta hoodwinks Castro on the left and is brought down. Castro should have been booked, although it's a bit irritating to see Iniesta asking for a card for the second time tonight.
24 min The free-kick almost produces the first goal. It's swung in by Xavi, beats everyone in the area and is palmed away by Leno, diving to his left. That's a good save because he would have had one eye on Pique, who had got away from his marker but then missed his attempted header.
GOAL! Barcelona 1-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Messi 25) I was typing 'GOAL!' when he was 45 yards out. It's a sublime finish from Lionel Messi. With Leverkusen having a suicidally high line, almost on the halfway line in fact, Messi curved his run to get beyond the defence onto a straightforward through pass from deep by Xavi. He ran into the area, a little left of centre, and lifted a wonderful scoop over the outstretched left arm of Leno. For most players such a scoop shot would have been a risky finish, but Messi always works within the limitations of his talent. There are no limitations.
28 min "Player to improve Barcelona?" says Simon Frank. "Stuart Pearce." Imagine how his Barcelona team-mates would react to this. They would be so appalled that they'd ask the ref for a card for their own player.
31 min Messi scurries into the box from the right, past the static Kadlec, and his shot is blocked well by Toprak.
32 min "The mid-70s Bayern side played a style of fluid football that was completely underrated, and I reckon Beckenbauer could slot very nicely into the Barca central defence," says Andrew Mullinder. "So, him, and Mick Harford, who would help them on the type of rainy Tuesday night at Stoke during which players like Messi and Pedro would obviously be completely useless." Beckenbauer is an excellent suggestion. Not even Barcelona's defenders can do this.
33 min Pedro, put through on goal by Xavi, is wrongly called offside. Oh well, they'll have another clear chance in a couple of minutes.
34 min Xavi blooters the ball over the bar from 25 yards. It took a slight deflection but the referee gave a goal kick.
35 min "To answer your question, and not to bang on about him, but Ronaldinho (when he still tried) for Pedro, Zidane for Fabregas, I imagine John Charles would do a good job at the back. I think Cafu was better than Alves, and Best in for, errr, someone," says Elliot Carr-Barnsley. "I have ignored Maradona and Pele because that's an even less interesting than the ones I have made. It's called Lovejoy's Theorum. If you can only think of Maradona or Pele as a subjective footballing answer, you either are ... you know where I'm going."
36 min Is there anybody out there who seriously believes Pep Guardiola would even consider swapping all this for a load of egomaniacal, football-illiterate hasbeens?
38 min Barcelona are coasting. It's terrifying effortless. Leverkusen are struggling to keep pace with the shadows, never mind the actual Barcelona players. I don't think they've touched the ball for three or four minutes.
41 min "As Cesc has managed to push his way in, I'd say a peak Platini would have made an improvement to the team (or at least not weakened)," says Ben Dunn. "Platini did everything Cesc can but with a Gallic panache hazed in filterless tobacco smoke as if he were the protagonist in a sexually charged incomprehensible black-and-white film."
GOAL! Barcelona 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Messi 42) For most players this would have been a sublime goal; for Messi it is utterly routine. We've seen him score this type of goal so many times before. He was found by a perceptive angled pass by Iniesta, just outside the area to the right of centre. He ran into the box and then across the area in a straight line, the ball never more than a few millimetres from his left foot. After dummying to shoot a couple of times, he placed the ball into the far corner. He made a difficult chance look offensively easy.
43 min Leno comes out bravely to smother Fabregas's stabbed shot. Moments later, Castro is booked for another hapless attempt to tackle Iniesta.
Half time: Barcelona 2-0 Bayer Leverkusen See you in 10 minutes.
Half time email
"Don't you think that some of the Laws of football limit the influence of skill in the game? For example, minimal substitutions and the lack of in-and-out privileges (temporary substitutions) make for tired and exhausted players, who don't play as well, are more likely to tackle poorly instead of defend well, and are more likely to get injured (taking their skills out of future games). And the older players (presumably smarter and more skilled) can't play as long. The no timeouts rule prevents managers from advising as needed. Penalties that are too easy to score in comparison to the denied 'goalscoring opportunity' can kill off an entire 90 minutes of hard work. And making a team play one man down for a severe foul, rather than simply punishing the individual, again can kill those 90 minutes. Then again, none of this seems to inhibit Barcelona. Maybe I'm just watching the wrong league."
I'd maybe argue the opposite, that perhaps the rule changes have gone too far in favour of the attackers, and that as a result nobody in the world apart from Nemanja Vidic can bloody defend properly. I don't know, I'd have to think it through. I'd like to read a big essay on why defending has gone to seed, though.
Oh, Stevie "To improve the Barcelona team how about swop Messi himself for Joe Cole," says Mike Gibbons, "who is as good if not better, or certainly was until recently?"
More half-time thoughts "I have to defend Pedro the Canarian," says Ceci Marjakangas. "I agree, he's not as magical to watch as Leo, or Cesc, or even Tello, but he's a hard worker. He's been but a shadow of himself for ages, though. Was Alexis not injured again, he'd be playing and not Pedro. The Barça docs are looking into what's ailing him because such a tough Chilean street player should not be off to the sick bay so often. They think it might have to do with his diet. Anyhow, with Villa injured as well, that only leaves Pep with Pedrito, or then the inexperienced youngsters Cuenca and Tello. But I agree, Pedro's not a favourite of mine, and he sounds like a chihuahua. I still think most teams in the Premier League would be very happy to sign him up." Tello looks extremely exciting, doesn't he.
46 min Barcelona kick off the second half. They lead 5-1 on aggregate. Can they hold on and make it through to the quarter finals?
47 min "Richard Dunne would improve Barcelona - his wholehearted oafishness would humanize the team, and make it more relatable to mere mortals," says Hugh Collins. "Their current level of superiority is at times a little hard to stomach. Just ask Jose Mourinho."
48 min Fabregas tries one pass too many. Iniesta, Fabregas and Messi shredded the defence in a blur of short first-time passes, with Messi's return ball putting Fabregas through on Leno. He could have shot but tried to square it to Iniesta, who had started the move on the touchline approximately 0.2 seconds earlier, and Schwaab cleared for a corner.
GOAL! Barcelona 3-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Messi 50) I'm sorry, but this is just ridiculous. It's not remotely fair. Barcelona should be handicapped, made to play with nine men, when Lionel Messi is in their side. He Messi has scored his eighth hat-trick of the season – his eighth hat-trick of the season – and this might be the best goal of the three. Again he ran beyond the defence onto a through pass, this time from Busquets. His first touch on the edge of the area was exquisite, but the covering Schwaab seemed to have forced him a little wide. Then Messi produced a glorious chip with his weaker right foot that arced over the head of Leno and plopped gently into the far corner. The extent and the efficiency of his genius is totally beyond our comprehension.
53 min No more Xaviesta porn tonight. Andres Iniesta, who played marvellously on the left of the front three, is replaced by the highly promising Tello, and Seydou Keita comes on for Xavi.
54 min Bayer Leverkusen almost reduce the aggregate deficit to 6-2. Derdiyok runs into the area down the left, bounces off Mascherano and then, from an absurd angle, dinks the ball over Valdes and right across the goalline.
55 min Leverkusen also make a double substitution: Derdiyok and Bender and replaced by Karim Bellarabi and Andre Schurrle.
GOAL! Barcelona 4-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Tello 55) The 20-year-old Cristian Tello came on two minutes ago for his European debut; he's already scored. He ran down the left onto a delightful lobbed pass from Fabregas, headed the ball into the area and then, with his second touch, opened up his body to pass the ball calmly across Leno into the far corner. A lovely finish from a player who looks a serious prospect.
GOAL! Barcelona 5-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Messi 58) Messi has four. After some more rat-a-tat passing on the edge of the area, Pedro tries to slip the ball through to Messi. He's blocked off by two defenders and Leno comes to claim, but he's at full stretch and the ball slithers from his grasp. Messi, who kept running, passes the ball in from a very tight angle on the left of the six-yard box.
59 min I am less speech.
60 min "Messi is Maradona meets Gerd Muller," says Mike Gibbons. "200 in five seasons...sorry, 201 now."
GOAL! Barcelona 6-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Tello 62) Poor Leno hoofs the post in disgust, because Barcelona have scored again. They break four on three, and Alves lifts a pass to Tello in space on the left side of the box. He takes a touch and passes it through the left hand of the sprawling Leno. He should probably have done better, but you can't really blame him for making mistakes in the face of this bombardment.
63 min Barcelona make their final substitution, with the young defender Marc Muniesa replacing Adriano.
64 min "Football referees, like their counterparts in boxing, should be empowered to end contests early," says Ben Stanley. "This is painful."
65 min Do you see what happens, Larry? Do you see what happens when you play a high line against Barcelona?
66 min Leverkusen make their final change, with Bastian Oczipka replacing Renato Augusto.
68 min "How crazy is it," says Karl Thomas Meakin, "that this Barça side almost certainly aren't going to win the league?" It's Jose Mourinho's greatest achievement, followed by centuries of daylight, followed by that treble with Inter and the titles with Chelsea. It's mind-blowing to think that Mourinho won the title by February against perhaps the greatest team of all time.
71 min This is a case for the League Against Cruel Sports. Leverkusen haven't had a kick all night.
74 min "I'd suggest Michael Laudrup (genuinely) and Preben Elkjaer (to get this mail published) would both improve this Barcelona side," says David Bartlett. Laudrup would be great on the left of the front three, with Iniesta back into midfield.
76 min Nothing much is happening. Barcelona seem to have declared at six. Leverkusen have certainly declared at minus six.
77 min "I was going to write and agree with you about the decline of defending but then I remembered how much fun this season has been as well as some half-repressed flashes of the 2003 Champions League final and now I realize that we must track down Nemanja Vidic and purge the last remnants of that terrible curse from the earth," says Alex Hanton.. "I assume Johan Cruyff has already done most of the legwork, possibly by battling a cyborg Helenio Herrera in the center of a rain-soaked Camp Nou, but he's getting on now and we all have to help out." What are you on about? That 2003 final was cerebral.
78 min "I disagree...Barça have played Madrid five times this season and Madrid never beat them," says Finola Leggett. "The fact that they are 10 points behind has more to do with Barça's mental fatigue and Spanish football politics than Mourinho's genius." Surely the fact even Mourinho's can't beat Barcelona makes his achievement in the league even greater, as it means he's had to secure an extra six points. Their margin for error is almost nonexistent.
79 min Almost a seventh goal. Pedro breaks the offside trap on the right of the box, and his low cross just evades the stretching Keita in front of an open goal.
81 min Fabregas's outswinging corner is headed wide by Keita, ten yards from goal at the near post. Mick Harford would have buried it.
GOAL! Barcelona 7-0 Bayer Leverkusen (Messi 85) Lionel Messi becomes the first man to score five goals in a Champions League match. It was another terrifyingly simple goal, passed into the corner at pace from the D. There's nothing left to say.
86 min "In fairness Mourinho hasn't really managed to beat this Barca team," says Alex Hanton. "He's just found a way of winning anyway. He's like the Roman general who worked out he couldn't beat Hannibal so just decided to burn everything within a 50-mile radius instead." He's still beaten them twice in big games, which is more than anyone else has managed. But his main achievement is to win almost every single other bloody match. People dismiss this on the grounds La Liga isn't great, but I don't see anyone else winning 22 games out of 25. He has raised the bar to a level that even Barcelona can't reach.
87 min Lionel Messi is 24 years old.
88 min "In an age when sports stars are more and more physically impressive, am I right in thinking that Messi is about average height, average weight and average build?" says Gary Naylor. "In a police report, he'd have no distinguishing features, would he?"
89 min That should have been a hat-trick on his debut, as a substitute, for Tello. Leverkusen won their first corner – which inevitably meant a chance for Barcelona about five seconds later. Fabregas broke and played a gentle through ball to Tello, whose shot was superbly saved by poor Leno.
GOAL! Barcelona 7-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Bellarabi 90) This could be the very definition of the consolation goal. The substitute Karim Bellarabi plays a neat one-two with Rolfes and sweeps a wonderful goal into the top corner from the left side of the box. Pep Guardiola shakes the hand of his opposite number Robin Dutt in appreciation of a stunning finish.
90+1 min "Player to improve Barcelona," says Niall Murphy. "Nedved for me. Brilliant close control, tremenedous energy and will, dodgy barnet to match Messi. Play on the left of front three he would be well capable of doing a stint of hard grafting further back if needed. Loved watching him play"
Full time: Barcelona 7-1 Bayer Leverkusen What's your favourite scary movie? At the moment mine is Barcelona 7-1 Bayer Leverkusen, a terrifying 90-minute demonstration of the defence-shredding genius of Barcelona and Lionel Messi. They go through 10-2 on aggregate, and for much of the tie they were playing within themselves. I can't think of anything else to say about this amazing football team. Imagine how good they'll be when they get Mick Harford. Thanks for your emails; night.