Lionel Messi lit up Camp Nou and devastated Manchester United before firing a warning to Barcelona that they cannot start slowly again.
Barca were superior to United in all departments for the best part of 80 minutes on Tuesday, a 3-0 win perhaps even flattering for their opponents, who were two down in 20, both goals belonging to Messi.
By the time Philippe Coutinho had curved in a third to send Ernesto Valverde’s side into the Champions League semi-finals, United’s stirring opening was long-forgotten, except by Barcelona’s captain.
“We put on a spectacle,” said Messi. “But we came out cold and looked nervous in the first five minutes. We cannot come out like that in a Champions League match. Five bad minutes can knock you out.”
“We have shown who we are,” Messi added, and in some ways, they were a perfect picture of their season.
Thrust into a position of comfort by their mesmeric number 10, Barca put on an exhibition of attacking, possession football, all tricks, flicks and bicycle kicks.
But there was also a nervousness at the start, seen briefly against Lyon in the previous round too, that suggests their desperation to win this tournament for the first time since 2015, and win it for Messi, does not weigh lightly.
“We had a lot of motivation for this tie, I can’t deny it,” said Valverde. “Especially after not being in the semis for a long time and after last year’s painful defeat. We were extremely focused.”
And United’s early threat was genuine. Their knack of breaking through central midfield, with only space and a backpedalling Barca defence ahead of them, exposed a fragility against pace and counter-attack that has never been far away.