Lionel Messi is taking the p*ss so much he can hit the bar twice while scoring
After explicitly stating he’d rather be somewhere else last summer, a sullen-looking Messi stuck around, watching his old mate Luis Suarez fire Atletico Madrid to a big lead at the top of the La Liga table.
This is the greatest one-club footballer in the history of the game, looking as though it would all come to an end with a second successive trophyless season, turning out at a disquietingly empty Camp Nou.
By early December, 12 games into the campaign, Ronald Koeman’s Barcelona had lost as many La Liga games as they’d won, including defeats to their title rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
On December 5, Barcelona had registered 82% possession at Cadiz, 21 shots and eight on target, but somehow contrived to lose 2-1, leaving them 7th, 12 points behind leaders Atletico. Even Cadiz sat two places and four points ahead.
Following Roma, Liverpool and Bayern, there was their now-annual Champions League humiliation, losing 4-1 in the first leg of their round of 16 first-leg clash with PSG, as Kylian Mbappe prompted a thousand ‘changing of the guard’ headlines – and at least one about Air Jordans – with a hat-trick on his first visit to the Camp Nou.
The Copa del Rey looked in severe doubt, too, with a 2-0 defeat to Sevilla in the first leg of the semi-final.
There wasn’t even the Supercopa. Having edged past Real Sociedad on penalties in the semi-final of the January mini-tournament, Athletic Bilbao came from behind to beat them 3-2 in the final.
An institutional crisis. A former president arrested. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
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Even Messi himself was misfiring. He’d scored well over 600 goals for the club and 20+ goals in 12 consecutive La Liga seasons but fired a blank in eight of his first 12 La Liga appearances of 2020-21.
The Argentinian’s radar looked off. There was a period in which he was way out in front in terms of shots in Europe’s top five leagues, but nowhere to be found in the top scorers charts.
In January, Tottenham’s Son Heung-min had registered 72 fewer attempts at goal than Messi but had scored more goals.
Whereby last term Messi broke the record for La Liga assists in a season (21), this season it took him until the 15th game, a 3-0 win at Real Valladolid just before Christmas, for him to set up a team-mate in the league.
But since the turn of the year, the 33-year-old well and truly has his mojo back, producing some of the best football of his career, with 17 goals and six assists in his last 18 appearances in all competitions.
Barcelona are unbeaten in 17 in La Liga, taking 45 points from the last 51 on offer, with 11 wins in the last 12. The only game in which they’ve dropped points in 2021 was another freak, smash-and-grab 1-1 draw with Cadiz in which they conceded a late penalty after creating enough chances to have won by three or four.
Where Atletico are faltering – three wins in their last eight – Messi is firing La Blaugrana back into the race, now just four points off the pace and with all the momentum behind them.
Koeman’s men are also on track for the Copa del Rey, setting up a rematch with Athletic after coming from behind to beat Sevilla 3-0 in the second leg of the semis.
They’re out of the Champions League at the earliest stage since 2007, but they made a point in Paris, outplaying the French champions, leaving them sweating at the prospect of another famous remontada. It was only 1-1 in the end, but only in the fine margins was it not a sizeable win.
The numbers are impressive in and of themselves for Messi and Barcelona, but they only tell half the story. Watch him play, and you see one of the game’s greats playing with hunger, enjoying his football and embracing the challenge of helping bring through the next generation.
When he struck the ball with total ferocity at PSG, and again with the opening goal in a 4-1 victory over Huesca, it’s as if he’s hitting it with all the force of the last 18 months of frustration.
As he wallops it, you imagine he’s still thinking how the club allowed Neymar to leave and spunked the world record €222million fee up the wall.
A MAGICAL finish from Lionel Messi! 🙌
The strike bounces in off the underside of the bar for his 20th league goal of the season, and Barca have an early lead 🔥 pic.twitter.com/H0zyw4ZeAu
— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) March 15, 2021
On Premier Sports in the UK, co-commentator Graham Hunter could only chuckle at the brilliance of the strike against Huesca, which struck the crossbar twice as the ball made its way over the line.
It’s just the latest occasion whereby the only reasonable reaction is to laugh at the unparalleled artistry of his game. There are hundreds of career highlights just like it. Pep Guardiola knows.
On the US feed, Ray Hudson went with a different tack, as he so often does, losing all composure and just screaming as Messi turned his man and rifled the ball in.
If you live in that region of the world, the Geordie commentator’s yelps and ever-more-ridiculous metaphors have been the soundtrack to Messi masterclasses for years.
The commentary LOOOOOL 😭😭 pic.twitter.com/WZOMPT3Bm5
— Yahya (@CFCYahya) March 15, 2021
If these are to be the Barcelona forward’s final months at the club, he looks determined to give Hudson a coronary. Such displays can’t be good for the man’s health.
Against Huesca, Messi scored a second, another strike from outside the box – albeit with help from a deflection – and got an assist, setting up the first goal of 21-year-old centre-back Oscar Mingueza’s career with a perfect cross, just days after he teed up 18-year-old Ilaix Moriba for his first.
It remains to be seen whether Messi lifts any silverware this summer, and whether he’ll still be with the club at the start of next season.
But if he is to go, it will be with a bang, not a whimper.