Messianic Messi raises Barca’s bar

In many respects, it was a match of biblical proportions in a way which was somewhat expected. Only this time, though, Lionel Messi was the Messiah, and Pep Guardiola was the prophet.
“The way Messi is playing at the moment, there's no defence that can stop him. It’s impossible,” remarked the 44-year-old tactician ahead of his official return to Camp Nou.

And how prophetic that proved to be.

Barcelona, many opined, already had the tie in the bag prior to kick-off – there was no way in the world a depleted Bayern Munich set-up would be able to defeat a Blaugrana outfit in supreme form in their own fortress. But for 70 minutes or so, the match panned out in such a way many would have least expected.

Guardiola, as most would know, is not the sort of guy who dies wondering. Sitting back and defending with grit at the expense of potentially exposing their opponents with countless waves of attack is, for the Bayern coach, a mortal sin. And indeed, his troops gave the Catalans a run for their money in astonishing fashion.

Bar the first 15 minutes or so in which Enrique’s men had several clear-cut chances to edge ahead, the Bavarians played superbly in what was, mostly, an evenly contested match, carving out opportunities of their own as they sought to dominate the midfield, something no other team nowadays would contemplate doing.

Ultimately, though, if there was going to be one man to ruin Guardiola’s long-awaited homecoming, it would be the maestro that, not too long ago, was spearheading his attack in Catalonia. Messi, of course.

When Bernat relinquished possession in defence, Messi pounced, executing an inch-perfect shot from outside the box towards the near post to beat Manuel Neuer who, up until that moment, looked unbeatable. The attacker’s second goal though, which came three minutes after the breakthrough, was simply executed in typical Messi fashion.

If Guardiola thought the 27-year-old’s nutmeg of James Milner weeks earlier at the same venue was spectacular, then his diagonal run into the box which left Jerome Boateng in a heap on the turf before icing his move with a majestic chip over the world’s best goalkeeper was just out of this world.

He also had a hand in the decisive third goal as it was his through ball to Neymar which allowed the Brazilian to seal the triumph.

And while we’re often treated to such magical moments week in week out – think of that ‘panenka’ he scored just last week against Getafe – Messi’s exploits against Bayern on Wednesday evening was a class above. In fact, his celebratory runs said it all as he sprinted away towards the fans leaning over the barrier at the sideline in a gesture befitting of a god, his arms outstretched with a wicked smile etched on his face.

Such scenes are a rarity nowadays given that it has become an expectation that the mercurial Argentine should score with regularity. In fact, it would seem the last time he had celebrated in such a manner was in their previous Champions League triumph back in 2011. So perhaps, it seems reasonable that he feels another continental title this season is inevitable.

But credit for Messi’s stunning resurgence this season belongs to Luis Enrique. Despite polarising opinion early on for his rotation policy, which, at best, was unconvincing, Lucho has finally found a way in which he can tactically incorporate the trident of Messi, Suarez and Neymar into a cohesive unit, where competition and rivalry amongst the trio is not only healthy, but encouraged. And for once, Barcelona look like the convincing team of old.

Meanwhile, Barca will almost certainly bathe themselves in a Champions League semi-final triumph, and they have Messi to thank. A decade on after scoring his debut goal for Barcelona, the Argentine still somehow manages to score in spectacular fashion. And, if I were a betting man, chances are, you can expect more dazzling displays ahead.