Mag­i­cal Messi helps lighten Barcelona mood at Camp Nou

The National - News - - SPORT FOOTBALL - ANDY MITTEN

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 10 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 a trick.

Messi’s pass to Vi­dal for Barca’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,” Vi­dal said. “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 is not the most pop­u­lar Barca 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 Pique. And what’s more, at the per­fect age”.

It was only Barca’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.”

Barca 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.


Lionel Messi left ev­ery­one speech­less in Barcelona’s 5-1 win over Val­ladolid, in­clud­ing his coach Ernesto Valverde

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