Not the greatest Barcelona team of recent years, but Lionel Messi is as great as he’s ever been

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Magician Lionel Messi pulled another rabbit from the hat with a masterful performance to send Barcelona through to the Champion League semi-finals for the first time in four seasons.

After weathering a bright start from Manchester United in which Marcus Rashford struck the bar, Messi curled an unstoppable shot beyond the despairing dive of David De Gea, who was at fault as Messi made it 2-0, allowing a weak, off-balance right-footed shot squirm under his body.

After that Barca held the beleaguered visitors at bay as they set up a likely last four clash with Liverpool – Philippe Coutinho curled unstoppably past De Gea in the second half to rubberstamp a flawless 3-0 victory as Barca went through 4-0 on aggregate.

30-SECOND REPORT

Two goals and a big part in the third – just a typical night for Lionel Messi in the Champions League, a competition in which he has now scored 110 goals.

Messi’s brilliance is undoubted. Barca’s less so, especially in recent years where they have had to take a back seat to fierce rivals Real Madrid’s trailblazing antics in Europe. Beaten at this stage for three successive years has been hard to take, but Messi took it upon himself to bear that burden as he ripped any feint hope United had from their grasp following a bright starts with an exquisite opener.

His second was excruciating to watch from De Gea’s point of view, but after that body blow, Messi bamboozled and bewitched United’s defence as Barca cruised.

STATS

Goals – 2

Assists – 0

Shots – 6

Shots on target – 2

Touches – 100

Key passes – 1

Pass accuracy – 86.8%

Dribbles – 6

Fouled – 4

GOT RIGHT – STRING-PULLER EXTRAORDINAIRE

One day, Barcelona won’t have Lionel Messi to pull them out of the fire. But, until that day – which is surely still some way off – does it really matter that they rely on him so heavily?

They were in command after the mercurial Argentine master put them 2-0 up, although they had to ride their luck a bit in the opening exchanges as United threatened a stirring comeback. But, after that – plus the denial of a penalty that VAR reversed – Messi made his mark.

He seized on hesitation from Ashley Young and had, within seconds, whipped a delicious shot past De Gea. His second was fortunate in the extreme and that sucked the life out of United.

Messi then breezed about the pitch – nutmegging players in pink almost at will and then spraying a brilliant ball to the onrushing Jordi Alba whose cut-back teed up Coutinho who delivered an emphatic finish.

GOT WRONG – BALL RETENTION 

It feels dirty dolling out any criticism Messi’s way but on a night when pretty much everything he delivered with his feet was significant, yet his pass success accuracy was strangely lacking.

At one stage his distribution in the second half had dipped to 82.5 per cent – six team-mates in Blaugrana blue and claret were into the 90s (goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen had 100 per cent) – with Coutinho closest to him with 84.9 per cent.

The stat had climbed to 86.8 by full-time – third worst – but, even so, when everything he touched had pretty much turned to gold, the greatest player of his generation can afford to not be quite perfect and still make a mockery of stats.

VERDICT

The anointed GOAT had a great night. And while Barcelona’s reliance on their talismanic skipper is long past concerning, that is no concern of the 31-year-old who can forever be relied upon to spearhead Barca’s surge to success.

Not the greatest Barca team of recent years by any stretch, but Messi is as great as he’s ever been, shining on the brightest stage of all once more as he fired Barca belatedly back into the semis.

9/10

Stats provided by whoscored.com

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WATCH: Ernesto Valverde reluctant to rest Lionel Messi for Villarreal clash

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Lionel Messi will probably play against to relegation-threatened Villarreal in La Liga on Tuesday, said Ernesto Valverde, despite suggestions it would be a good time to rest the Argentine ahead of a top-of-the-table clash with Atletico Madrid on Saturday.

Ernesto Valverde’s team beat Espanyol 2-0 last Saturday at the Camp Nou with two goals from Messi, while Villarreal lost against Celta Vigo 3-2 in a match that saw both teams battling to avoid relegation.

Barcelona have not lost against Villarreal since March 2008 when they were beaten 2-1 at the Camp Nou.

Since then the Catalan side have won 14 out of 19 matches in La Liga, drawing the other five.


However, with Barca some 10 points ahead of Atletico in the title race and with a crucial Champions League tie against Manchester United following next week, conventional wisdom would suggest rotating would be an option.








Watch Valverde’s full thoughts in the video above.



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WATCH: Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni heaps praise on Lionel Messi despite defeat

Sport360 staff 23/03/2019
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Lionel Messi made his international return on Friday but could not prevent Argentina from losing 3-1 to Venezuela in a friendly in Madrid.

It was Messi’s first match for Argentina since since their defeat to France in the round of 16 at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Salomon Rondon, John Murillo and Josef Martinez scored for Venezuela, while Messi helped set up Argentina’s only goal with a pass to Giovani Lo Celso,who in turn fed Lautaro Martinez inside the area.

“He played well,” insisted Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni after the match, adding that Messi had been instrumental in all the chances they created.


“All the chances we created were due to the confusion he caused. During the second half we saw more team work from him.”








Messi will be unavailable play in Argentina’s next friendly against Morocco in Tangier on Tuesday after picking up a groin injury.


Watch more post-match thoughts from Scaloni above.



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