One of my favorite sayings is “ In life, there are no successes or failures only expectations” In sport, of course there are successes and failures but it is funny how expectations can lighten the blow of a failure. Last week was a bad week for FC Barcelona - a round of 16 exit coming on the heels of several years of disappointing performances. However last week felt different from prior years may be because almost everyone had resigned to the fact that Barca would crash out. Contrast this with the air of expectation that surrounded their trips to Rome and Anfield in 2018 and 2019. So when viewed in light of those low expectations, a performance where they were clearly the better team and indeed with better luck(Messi’s missed penalty, Dembele’s golden chances) may have even won, arguably left many a fan feeling less miserable than after the losses to Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich.
As they returned to La Liga action for round 27, Barca was fortunate to have had a 5 day break and to be playing league laggards Huesca. Messi started the game on Monday equaling a record - a mindblowing one at that - 767 games for FC Barcelona, pulling level with another Barca legend Xavi Hernandez.
However he probably had another number 767 in his mind - the number of goals Ronaldo had scored for club and country before his hat trick this weekend in the Serie A. Messi definitely came out like a man on a mission. The goosebumps from Messi’s longevity record had barely settled when the Magic Man unfurled millions of smiles all around the world. It took just 13 minutes for me to smile like a Cheshire cat - was it the Magic Man’ Messi’s goal or was it Ray Hudson gushing orgasmically about “Lionel”, his adopted soccer son. This goal was vintage Messi. A quick first touch just dragging the defender left and then curling in a bazooka to the top left corner of the goal. A perfect draw if he were for a left handed golfer. For just a fleeting moment it looked like it may just hit the crossbar and bounce back but the genius that is Messi made sure that ball just kissed the roof of the net and dropped right in for a wonderful goal.
The goal visibly lifted the energy and urgency of the Barca team. The passing got quicker like the staccato firing of an assault rifle. Huesca would periodically attempt to break out of the hypnotic trance Barca seemed to have them in though a counter-attack or two launched on a long ball in from one of their full backs. They clearly knew this team’s long exploited weakness against speedy counter attacks. One such counter attack especially in the 26th minute came a frog’s hair away from resulting in a goal - Ter Stegen got his finger tips in the way to save a goal. A few minutes of quiet were followed by another moment of left-footed brilliance from Griezmann who said “ I see you Messi and I raise you”. As Barca minds drifted to half-time refreshments Huesca came back with a striking counter-attack that resulted in a somewhat dubious penalty. 2-1 at the break.
After the break, Huesca had a golden opportunity to equalize and the impressive Rafa Mir somewhat mysteriously failed to use his head - literally and figuratively - as he stood inches away from the goal line and shouldered a ball over the cross bar and onto the roof where a gentle nod of the head would have sufficed. Barca knew they needed the insurance goal and who else but Lionel again this time with the assist to young Spanish international Oscar Mingueza who finished with a thunderbolt of a header.
Messi however was not done yet. Not content with just a goal and an assist - mere hors d'oeuvres for his ravenous appetite - he came back to the buffet alone this time and eyed a juicy shot to the left bottom. Once again from well outside the box he unleashed another magic Messi moment with a little help from his friends (of the Huesca defensive kind)
As the clock ticked over to close without much further ado, Frenkie de Jong got some well earned rest and so did Pedri who also had some celebrating to do of his own having earned a call up for the Spanish national team. Ricki Puig came on a full four minutes ahead of schedule in the 84th minute instead of his usual 88th minute. Shall we say Koeman’s faith in Puig has tripled?
Analytical Sports-crazed goofballFollow to receive updates for new posts