Messi’s golden decade

Lionel Messi scored the first of his 77 goals in the Champions League 10 years ago this week. The magic moment came on November 2 2005, in the 34th minute of a group stage game at Camp Nou against Panathinaikos, since when Messi has never looked back.

The precocious Argentine flicked the ball over goalkeeper Mario Galinovic from close range for Barca’s third as the Catalans went on to hammer the Greek outfit 5-0. Under Frank Rijkaard, they went on to win the Champions League that season, defeating Arsenal 2-1 in the final Paris, although Messi did not feature.

The young Messi had signed his first senior contract just four months previously, on his 18th birthday, and had quickly become established in a Barca side featuring Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o. He would go on to deliver goals and magic on Europe’s biggest stage for the next decade.

Messi was forced to sit out the triumphant final at the Stade de France after tearing a hamstring in the semi-final against Chelsea, but he did go on to contribute massively as the club won Europe’s premier club competition three more times in 2009, 2011 and 2015, becoming the leading scorer in Champions League history.

On target in the Catalans’ 2009 and 2011 Champions League wins, both against Manchester United, Messi failed to get on the scoresheet in Barcelona’s 3-1 win over Juventus in last season’s final in Berlin. He played a part in all his side’s goals, however, forcing a parried save from Gianluigi Buffon that allowed Luis Suarez to net Barca’s second. 

The leading assist-provider with six in last year’s Champions League, Messi finished the 2014/15 competition as joint top scorer, his 10 goals making him the first player ever to top the goalscoring chart in five Champions League seasons.

Messi was at his most prolific during Pep Guardiola’s reign, reaching the pinnacle of Champions League productivity with 26 goals in 24 appearances in the competition during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.

La Pulga put another three group stage goals past Panathinaikos, home and away, in the first of those two campaigns, netting a similar number against Copenhagen as Barca won their group with ease.

Another two from Messi saw off Arsenal in the knockout phase and a late brace at the Santiago Bernabeu, as Barca overcame Real Madrid in a two-legged Clasico, put his side into that Wembley final where Messi notched the second against Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United to land the trophy for Guardiola.

All Messi’s group stage goals in the following season’s competition were scored away from Camp Nou. A hat-trick in a 4-0 win at Viktoria Plzen was the highlight and there were braces at BATE Borisov and in Milan, against whom the little man has scored eight times overall in the Champions League.

In typical Messi fashion, he raised the bar even higher in the last 16, netting five as Barca thrashed Bayer Leverkusen 7-1 to earn a 10-2 aggregate win.

Another two Messi goals against the unfortunate Rossoneri followed, both from the spot, as Barca reached the last four with a 3-1 win over Milan, only to fall to Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea, with Messi absent from the scoresheet in both legs.

Messi made his 100th Champions League appearance away at Roma in September. He has yet to appear again, sidelined by the serious knee injury sustained against Las Palmas 10 days later.

Barca’s progress without him through a moderately tricky group has been unspectacular, but a comfortable 3-0 win over BATE at Camp Nou on Wednesday night left them on the brink of progression to the knockout phase once again.