It seems barely a Barcelona match goes by without Lionel Messi breaking a record or reaching a milestone, and his masterful performance against Chelsea in the last 16 of the Champions League on Thursday was another such occasion.
In what looked before kick-off like a delicately poised tie with the scores level at 1-1 after the first leg, Messi dealt Chelsea a killer early blow.
It was so early, in fact, that it was the quickest goal the Argentinian has ever scored in his career — after just 2 minutes and 8 seconds.
The goal was typical Messi, as well, in that it was completely atypical. After an attempted one-two on the edge of the box went awry, the ball pinballed to Luis Suarez who flicked a delightful pass to Messi, who had advanced almost to the byline. The number 10 finished the move with a surgical effort with his weaker right foot which bisected the legs of Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois and snuck into the corner of the net.
|Champions League top goalscorers|
|Ruud van Nistlerooy||73||56|
It was Messi’s 601st career goal.
For his next trick, he pulled off an assist which required such vision that possibly the only other player in history who could have executed it was Diego Maradona.
Snatching the ball from the feet of his former teammate Cesc Fabregas, Messi accelerated towards goal, sending two defenders yawing off balance. Then, when the two options available appeared to be to shoot or attempt a pass to Suarez who was running angles in front of him, Messi cut the ball back into the vacant area which would be occupied one second later by a galloping Ousmane Dembele.
The Frenchman, when he arrived on the scene like a seagull attacking a lobbed chip, would have had to try hard not to score. He did what was required, picking up the ball and belting it past a hapless Courtois to register his first goal for Barcelona.
“Lionel Messi makes any attacking move better,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde explained after the game.
“Having him on the team is a luxury.
“He’s so decisive that in any single moment you can create danger, our attacks go through him.”
To Chelsea’s credit they continued to attack. They were even the more coherent side for much of the encounter. Knowing they still only needed two goals to progress, they had nothing to gain by shutting up shop.
Despite all the pressure the English side created, though, it was Barcelona who would score the nail-in-the-coffin goal in the 63rd minute.
It was Messi again, breaking ankles and breaking records. He became the second man to notch 100 Champions League goals when he once again sent defenders tottering in the wrong direction and again threaded the ball through Courtois’ feet to score and seal the tie.
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The achievement came in just 123 games — 14 fewer than it took the only other man to reach 100, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Chelsea coach Antonio Conte called Messi “extraordinary” and said he was the difference between the sides, while British pundit Gary Lineker said he was “joyous” — and incomparable.