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There have been some, at the start of the current season, who may have felt that the lustre had begun to wear off the previously untouchable Lionel Messi. Both for Barcelona and Argentina his golden touch had seemed to have disappeared and, along with it, the fortunes of both teams had also taken knock. For Barca there was the sad sight of Real Madrid carrying off the Champions League trophy yet again and the less said about Argentina’s woeful World Cup performance the better.
But then came Barcelona’s epic encounter with Spurs in the group stage of the Champions League. Not since 1966 has the stadium encountered such a thrilling 4-2 score line, and this time it was the English side who were well and truly on the receiving end of things.
Architect of Spurs’ downfall, ably assisted by other team mates including Rakitic and Coutinho, was the wily Argentinian who had surely been keeping his powder dry for this match. The consequence is that Barcelona must now surely be the team that the others need to beat.
No-one who witnessed the display could describe it as anything less than a masterclass from a player who, at 31, showed that he still has all the skill, drive and determination as he had while still in his mid-twenties.
Not only did Messi score twice, he also hit the post the same number of times and played a crucial role in the other two goals that sealed victory for the Spanish team. At many points during the game the Spurs defence appeared to be simply flummoxed by his skill and incapable of doing anything to counter it.
From delivering inch perfect passes almost from his first kick of the game – he set up Coutinho’s goal within around 90 seconds of the game getting under way – to creating all the time and space he needed to run rings round the hapless Spurs, it was a display that even the fans of the losing team must admit was a privilege to witness.
The display was made all the more remarkable coming, as it did, after a spiritless 1-1 draw against Atletico Bilbao which was the third game in a row in which Barcelona had failed to win. But it would certainly seem that the bigger stage of Europe really is bringing out the very best of Messi following his hat trick versus PSV Eindhoven in their previous Champions League encounter.
What’s more, in the whole of last season’s European competition he only scored seven goals in total. Now, two games in he has already scored five. So it’s no wonder that he’s clear favourite to carry off the Golden Boot and Barcelona are equally well fancied to carry off the title – two facts which should send fans hurrying to 888sport’s online bet calculator to see how much they could possibly win.
Of course, Messi has excelled in Europe before. Who can forget his stellar performance against Bayern Munich in the first leg of the 2015 Champions League final – and it certainly seems that he’s transcending even those dizzy heights today.