Barca march on, Madrid muddle through

Barcelona stormed into the last 16 of the Champions League as group winners with a 6-1 mauling of Roma, giving notice that whichever sides are drawn to face the Catalans in the remaining rounds of the competition should be very afraid indeed.

Even in the absence of Lionel Messi for the past two months, Barca have emerged as the dominant force in La Liga, their supremacy confirmed by a 4-0 thumping of Real Madrid in last Saturday’s Clasico in the Spanish capital.

Messi made an impact from the bench without getting on the scoresheet at Santiago Bernabeu but was quickly back to his irresistible best against Roma, delighting the Camp Nou faithful with two goals and an assist as the Italians were mercilessly put to the sword.

Unusually, Neymar was a rare absentee from the scoresheet against Roma, as Luis Suarez weighed in with a brace to take his season’s tally to 17 in all competitions while Gerard Pique and substitute Adriano were also on target as Luis Enrique’s men filled their boots.

Real Madrid had already qualified for the last 16 ahead of their encounter with Shakhtar Donetsk in Lviv and Rafa Benitez shuffled his pack accordingly, while no doubt expecting a reaction from his players following their Clasico humbling.

A pedestrian first half gave way to an ultimately calamitous second as Gareth Bale, once again a peripheral figure for much of the game, provided Cristiano Ronaldo with the second of two assists. Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal joined the Portuguese on the scoresheet as Los Blancos went 4-0 ahead, unaware of the mayhem that was to ensue.

A soft penalty saw Kiko Casilla beaten by Alex Teixeira to concede Madrid’s first group stage goal before substitute Dentinho pulled another back as Benitez became jittery in his technical area. The Coach threatened to explode when Teixeira made it 4-3 with two minutes to go, but was saved by the final whistle.

Antoine Griezmann scored both goals as Atletico Madrid enjoyed a routine 2-0 win over Galatasaray at Vicente Calderon but need to win in Benfica in the last round of games to top the group. Sevilla meanwhile shipped four goals at Borussia Monchengladbach as their erratic form continued.

Unai Emery’s side now need to beat Juventus at home on the final matchday to avoid finishing last in their group and missing out on even a Europa League spot. A late Vitolo goal and an even later Ever Banega penalty barely laid a veneer of respectability on the scoreline as Gladbach ran out 4-2 winners.

Valencia continue to blow hot and cold in La Liga, as last weekend’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Las Palmas at Mestalla showed all too clearly. Nuno Espirito Santo’s men are struggling in the Champions League too and now face an uphill battle to avoid slipping into the Europa League after crashing 2-0 in Russia at the hands of Zenit St Petersburg.

Los Che, whose cause was not helped by a late straight red card for Ruben Veza, must now win their final match at home to Lyon, who have already collected the wooden spoon. At the same time, Valencia must rely on surprise package Gent failing to spring a further shock by defeating Zenit.

With three clubs guaranteed to reach the knockout stages, La Liga is once again setting the pace in Europe’s premier club competition, even as Sevilla and Valencia toil.