There comes a point where any writer, no matter how accomplished, simply runs out of superlatives. Football has seen outstanding performers before, and there have also been many stars who have maintained their form for years on end. But perhaps only Lionel Messi has been and ever will be capable of setting new ground every single time he takes the pitch, and doing so over a sustained period that has now lasted more than a decade.
The Rosario born phenomenon broke the 6 0 0 - g o a l mark for Barcelona on Wednesday in none ot her t ha n a Champions Leag ue sem i-f ina l against dangerous Liverpool. The strike that t o o k h i m p a s t t h e landmark was rather prosaic by his gal a c t i c stan - d a r d s : left with a n o p e n net a f ter team-mate Luis Suárez s t r uck t he b a r, M e s s i on ly had to walk the ball in to put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night. But if his first strike was unremarkable, what was to come just a matter of minutes later defied the very realms of possibility.
Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson was left f lailing at a monstrous longrange free-kick which curved a rou nd h i s d e f e n s i v e wall and nestled perfectly in the top-left angle of the net, a goal worthy of the occasion to put Barcelona firmly in the driving seat.
“He is unstoppable,” Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp stated with almost helpless admiration after the game. “The little genius defies logic,” beamed English television presenter and former Barca striker Gary Lineker. The entire football world was once more prostrate at Messi’s virtuoso left foot. Ironically, during the first 70 minutes at the Camp Nou Klopp’s Liverpool had done as proficient a job as any team in trying to keep the Argentine quiet, causing him no little discomfort with their ferocious pressing. It was not enough, however.
The slightest of openings was all the wizard needed to wave h i s m a g i c wand and trans - form a tie that was still in the balance to essentially a foregone conclusion for Barcelona.
“It went in spectacularly,” the man himself grinned after the game. “I went for it and I got lucky that it went in.” Little about Messi’s game though, false modesty aside, has to do with good fortune. T h a t f r e e - k i c k t o o k Argentina’s captain to 12 Champions League goals this season, for an astonishing total of 48 in 46 games across all competitions in 2018-2019. Two more goals will see him break the half-century mark in a single campaign, something that would be a career-defining, unique achievement for even the best mortals, for the sixth time.
Barcelona, meanwhile, are already champions of Spain, picking up last week with time to spare their 10th Liga title in 15 seasons since Messi’s début. They are also in the final of the Copa del Rey cup competition and just 90 minutes away from the Champions League decider, leaving the club on the verge of treble success. No Spanish club had ever achieved such a feat before the little No. 10 came along and indeed, none other than the Blaugrana has reached such heights; but with Messi in tow Barca are chasing an incredible third clean sweep of domestic and European crowns.
The coming week will see Liverpool attempt against all odds to come back from the brink and over turn that three-goal deficit. It will be a daunting challenge. The current Premier League title challengers have talent to spare and could have scored at least twice themselves at Camp Nou. Both in defence and going forward Klopp’s charges number amongst Europe’s most technically proficient and balanced teams.
But there is one thing they
do not have, and that is Messi.
The Argentine will be just as
dangerous at Anfield and the
hosts will know a repeat of
Wednesday’s heroics will see
La Pulga send them packing
from the Champions League
in front of their own fans. Just
knowing that fact, however,
is rarely enough. To get to the
final Liverpool will have to
find a way to stop Barcelona’s
force – and that might just