Lionel Messi’s yesterday’s performance for FC Barcelona against Manchester City was a proof that when at his peak, the Argentine is unstoppable.
Barcelona booked their spot in the Champions League quarter-finals for the seventh straight year after beating Manchester City4-1 on aggregate. If Barca’s yesterday’s has anything to go by, it was that the ‘Azulgranas’ may not be favourites, but they remain firmly in the running to lift the trophy for the fourth time in a decade.
On the back of a difficult spell for the Argentine, his stunning individual performance in the 2-1 victory over Manchester City should finally see talk of his on-off form and injury woes put well and truly behind him.
Following Barcelona’s recent mediocre performances and especially after defeat to Real Valladolid at the weekend, Messi was the target for criticism, but on another big European night he again showed how ridiculous it is to write off a player of his class.
Though it was Dani Alves who made it 2-1 in stoppage time, a sucker punch that rendered City’s 89th-minute consolation effort even hollower, Messi was the star of the show. The Argentine seized on Lescott’s gaffe to give Barça the lead, hit the post in the second half, should have had a penalty before the break and even busted a gut for his side defensively. It was a typically brilliant piece of skill from the Argentina forward as he dinked the ball over City goalkeeper Joe Hart in the 67th minute, his 28th goal of the season during which he has spent two months on the sidelines with a thigh injury.
After the match, under-pressure coach Tata Martino responded to a question on Messi’s display by saying he had provided the perfect response to the recent negativity. He said: “Sometimes criticism can provoke a reaction from the best players – they have a lot of pride.”
No doubt Manchester City produced a respectable performance in formidable circumstances — lesser teams would have wilted at the mere thought of playing Barcelona at the Nou Camp with a 2-0 first-leg deficit. However, though City have a world-class striker in Sergio Aguero and several other top-quality players, like most teams, they lack someone on Messi’s level — a player who can dominate games and constantly influence them with a series of unrelenting, intelligent runs and ingenious passes.
It is often said that the truly great footballers can only be identified on the big occasions that they inherently relish.
Lionel Messi is long past needing to justify his status, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, as the world’s best player. Last night, Messi consistently illustrated the type of qualities that distinguish him from a host of extremely talented players currently plying their trade in the game.
At only 26, Messi now has 67 Champions League goals – no other player has scored more for a single club in the competition’s history.
And despite their much talked about struggles under Tata Martino this season, an in-form Messi means no side will be rejoicing if they draw Barcelona out of the hat.