It’s easy to produce Lionel Messi content, but it’s difficult to write about Lionel Messi.
This is the preamble, or pre-ramble depending on how it unfolds, to a series on the latter stages of the career of the best ever.
We begin with Messi’s 41st appearance in El Clásico, for no other reason than we hadn’t started earlier.
The point of this isn’t to report on peak Messi, whatever that is, whenever it was, or whenever it will be. The idea is to accept a challenge, set by no one, and have the privilege of reporting on the most high-profile player, possibly in the history of football, in his later years.
There may be injuries, time on the sidelines, time in midfield, even the changing of clubs, but this will all be part of the story of Messi’s late run.
As he enters his mid-30s — he turns 32 this summer — there’s a realisation that he won’t be playing forever, which for football fans around the world leads to a sense of impending doom.
Best write about him now, while we have the chance.
But there he is, full of beard, and improving with age — that’s according to David Moyes who was providing the punditry for whichever broadcaster was covering La Liga in the UK this week.
Were he not playing, would it still be worth watching? Especially when the Derby della Capitale is on the other side, and a deeper dive into the sports channels reveals the UK’s first live game of the 2019 Major League Soccer season is being shown…
It would. Vinicius Júnior looks like he’ll be decent, Gareth Bale is always capable of something special, and Barcelona’s other stars aren’t too shabby, but it wouldn’t be the same without Messi.
There will be a post-Messi Barcelona, just as there was a pre-Messi Barcelona, the latter of which might come as a shock to some of the more irascible corners of #BarcaTwitter, but again, it won’t be the same.
We’re lucky to be watching football at a time when the greatest player of all time is still lacing his boots and stepping out onto the pitch.
The Argentine has only lost 12 of the 41 Clásico’s he’s appeared in. He’s now won 19 of them, and has scored in 26.
Ivan Rakitic gave Barça the win in this latest edition, with a Messi-esque chip over the goalkeeper.
¡Vamos equipo 🔝! Feliz por el gol 😊💪⚽️ Va para mis chicas 👨👩👧👧❤️ ¡Gracias afición 🙌!
Yesssss! Well done mates 👏🔝! Happy for scoring the winning goal 😋 It’s dedicated to my family 👨👩👧👧 #ElClásico #ForçaBarça 🔵🔴 pic.twitter.com/iwIIHDLcbh
— Ivan Rakitic (@ivanrakitic) March 2, 2019
A few highlights from the win which took Barcelona 12 points clear of their rivals at the top of the table…
A cushioned through-ball intended for Suarez gave Raphael Varane and Thibaut Courtois a chance to read the pass and sweep up.
Had the pass been played by any other player you’d imagine it would have been an easy gather for the goalkeeper. But the pass wasn’t played by any other player, it was played by Messi, and confusion ensued with Varane kicking the ball out of Courtois’ grasp and out for a corner.
A jinking meander through the defence which involved a bit of luck but plenty of skill. The finish was trademark Messi, chipped over the onrushing Courtois, but it bounced wide.
A free kick hit just over the bar.
“Messi uses the first minutes of each match to analyse. He ignores the ball and walks around the opposition defence, fixing each man’s position in his head. As the game advances, he gets in little by little. He knows perfectly where the rivals’ weakness is.”
– Ernesto Valverde pic.twitter.com/crZx7L7Mg3
— FourFourTweet (@FourFourTweet) March 1, 2019
There were Sergio Ramos moments. The villain of the piece was up to his usual cynical tricks, sticking his leg out behind him to trip Messi, then feigning an injury to his own calf when contact was made.
Then just before half-time Ramos took the opportunity to perform one of his own trademarks — a disguised elbow to an opponent’s face. The ones where he can claim momentum carried his arm into the player, but also gives him the opportunity to leave on on them.
Lads, don’t make Messi angry.
— Euan McTear (@emctear) March 2, 2019
There was a scare at the start of the second half when Messi looked to be nursing a groin or thigh injury, but ten minutes later he was dribbling through the centre of the park only to be blocked off by Ramos who, this time, was shown a card.
A perfect cross to Luis Suarez.
A shot whistles past the top corner in injury time, laid on by the excellent Arturo Vidal.