Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 12 November 2019

Magic of Lionel Messi helps lighten the mood in Barcelona

Argentine produces one of his best performances in a Barca shirt to help ease tensions in troubled Catalonia

The cries for Catalan independence are loud and proud at Camp Nou during these tense times in Barcelona, but even they pale next to the roars from those mesmerised by Lionel Messi’s magic.

Tuesday night saw one of his greatest performances in a Barca shirt. Yes, there have been hundreds in his 695 club games and there have been stronger opponents than Real Valladolid which lists the Brazilian Ronaldo as its president.

But while Ronaldo lit up Camp Nou for an incredible season in 1996-97, Messi has done it every campaign for 15 years, scoring 608 goals in 695 games. Cristiano Ronaldo has 606 for all his clubs in 813 games.

Messi averages 52 goals per season for Barca over the last decade and, at 32, he’s as great as he’s ever been.

Against a capable Valladolid side who’d lost only two of their ten league games and had conceded fewer goals than Barcelona, Messi scored twice in a 5-1 win including the 50th free-kick of his career and a rocket finish from an intelligent Ivan Rakitic pass.

He set two more goals up for Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, while his nutmegging of Valladolid’s Oscar Plano with a pass off the outside of his boot left the bewildered Spaniard wondering how this magician had pulled off such trick.

Messi’s pass to Vidal for Barça’s second elicited a stunned ‘woah’ before the Chilean scored.

“Messi is a smallpox, but there is no vaccine,” said Valladolid director David Espinar in a curious comparison. His team’s manager described Messi’s free-kick as “a masterpiece”

“We see him every day and he surprises us every day, with the quality he has he’s from another planet,” said Vidal. “I have no words to talk about Leo, he’s from another world.”

“What else can be said about him? I’ve run out of words,” enthused his manager Ernesto Valverde. “His talent isn’t comparable to anything, he has a talent nobody else has. He can get past anybody, but it’s not just a question of him doing an individual move. The reality is that every time he touches the ball, something special happens. I just don’t know what to say.

“We have times in training, you think he’s going to pass to the left or the right but he passes somewhere else you can’t anticipate. You only see it with this type of player. He’s feeling better every day. He’s getting back to form after a spell out of the team.”

Valverde, who isn’t the most popular Barça manager of recent times, is fortunate to have him.

“There are great coaches who have won nothing because they didn't have Messi,” Pep Guardiola told Catalan radio this week. “I was lucky enough to have him, and Xavi and Iniesta and Dani Alves and Piqué. And what’s more at the perfect age”.

It was only Barça’s second league game in 23 days, with the weekend clasico postponed until December because of the political situation in Catalonia.

It was a shame that only 59,896, by 20,000 the smallest crowd of the season at Camp Nou, watched it, but that’s what happens when games kick off at 9.15pm and there’s anger on the streets.

Barcelona boast seven wins in a row since the September defeat at a Granada side they knocked off top position on Tuesday. They’ve won all five home league games, scoring 21 times.

They won two of their first six games of the season without Messi. They’ve won all seven since he’s returned to the starting XI. Messi has been directly involved in nine goals in his last five games, but while Guardiola opined that “nobody eats at the same table as Messi”, he also explained how his game has changed with age.

“Right now, you need to ask Messi to make short bursts of effort,” said the Manchester City manager. “He can’t run for the sake of running, no way. If Leo ran like he ran in his first season with me, he’d be injured every three months. Managing legends of 30 and above is the hardest thing for a coach.”

Barça seem to be managing him just fine as the greatest footballer of all time shows no sign of being any less effective and seems only to get better with age.

Updated: October 30, 2019 04:47 PM

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