Football Features

“An almost eternal presence” – Five things learned as Messi inspires Barcelona to batter Borussia Dortmund

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:23, 27 November 2019

In a stunning night of football, Barcelona battered Borussia Dortmund 3-0 at the Camp Nou.

The Germans began brightly enough but then Leo Messi exerted his excellence and the Blaugrana were much the better side for the rest of the contest – with their victory seeing them qualify top of their group yet again. We saw four goals, all of them excellent, but what did we learn?

1. Leo Messi is eternal

On a night when Leo Messi played his 700th game for Barcelona he also bagged his 613th goal for the club. That is, quite frankly, utterly ridiculous. That fact alone would have justified oceans of praise, but in all honesty his goal was the least impressive thing he did tonight.

Oh sure, it was a nice finish as he slotted it calmly into the back of the net to double Barcelona’s lead, but it was only a shade of his genius. His passing today was absolutely ridiculous, creating more chances than anyone (4) and notching two perfectly weighted assists (his 236th and 237th for Barça). His dribbling was absurd, as he completed 10(/15) take-ons, more than Dortmund managed as a team!

Those numbers would justify mountains of kudos, but it was the way he did all of the above which demands the majority of adoration. Messi was just sublime, an almost eternal presence moving with an inevitability that mortal men should not be able to match. It was as though he knew everything that had happened and would ever happen at the Camp Nou, because he has always been there and will always be there. Less a player than a psychic force of pure footballing joy. Enjoy him while he’s here, because we’ll never see his like again.

2. Junior grows up

When Junior Firpo made his Barcelona debut he had fallen over, given the ball away and conceded a goal after three minutes. Whenever he’s played he has looked like a pure talent but one that seemed overawed by the quality of his team-mates and the stature of his new club. Not so tonight against Borussia Dortmund, when the Spaniard put in a calm and composed performance.

Junior was often available, in true Jordi Alba fashion, as an attacking outlet. But what was more admirable was the tenacity with which he defended. No player on the pitch managed more than the 3 tackles he did and he also bagged a couple of interceptions. Further, later in the game when Barcelona were playing on the break it was notable how much discipline he showed in not surging forward even though he was the fastest player on the pitch. That discipline prevented Dortmund from perhaps catching Barcelona slipping defensively, in the way many opponents have been able to do in the Champions League in recent years. Junior showed he’s big enough for this giant club.

3. Sancho states his case

When Borussia Dortmund lined up at the Camp Nou in their biggest game of the season thus far, they did so without their most electric talent the teenage Jadon Sancho. The young Englishman has found himself on the outs lately as Lucien Favre has questioned his commitment to the Dortmund cause, and as a result he was only on the bench tonight.

In his absence, Dortmund fluffed their lines quite dramatically. They began the game in a good rhythm but once Barcelona settled themselves the German side offered little to nothing as the Blaugrana dominated. Then Sancho came off the bench at half-time and instantly he added a bit more drive to Barcelona.

And when the Catalans entered energy saving mode, casting an eye to their weekend clash against Atlético Madrid, Sancho turned up the heat. He scored a scorching goal out of absolutely nowhere to pull Dortmund back into the game and then began to continually drive at Barcelona, pulling another great save out of Marc-André Ter Stegen with just minutes to go.

Dortmund lost, sure, but Jadon Sancho definitely showered that he belongs on stages as big as this one.

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4. Ousmane Dembélé can’t catch a break

Ousmane Dembélé got the nod to start this game alongside Leo Messi and Luis Suárez. That was a big vote of confidence for him given that the alternative was Antoine Griezmann, objectively one of the five best players on the planet. And Dembélé began the game brightly; always managing to get himself into space and be available for the pass – then when he got the pass, having the confidence to try and make things happen.

Unfortunately for him, his injury problems flared up once again and after a collision around 20 minutes in he knew there was a problem. The image of Dembélé sat on the turf, both boots off and looking despondant was absolutely heartbreaking. There may be issues with his professionalism but ultimately the main thing preventing him from developing into the kind of world-conquering talent his compatriot Kylian Mbappé has become is the fact that he just cannot stay fit.

5. Hometown Heroes and Big Game Veterans will always have a chance

Barcelona have had their share of problems on the road this season, and even at home against so-called “lesser” sides (like Slavia Prague, who got a 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou on matchday four). These problems have led to Barcelona being labelled as done, and it’s understandable when you watch them limp through insipid away displays like the one against Leganés at the weekend.

But this is a side chock full of Big Game Veterans. The kind of players that come alive in the biggest game. Moreover, Barcelona have the strongest home field advantage in the Champions League. They are unbeaten in 35 games at the Camp Nou, winning a staggering 31 of those contests. Their away issues have cost them in the last two European seasons, and could well do so again, but any side that plays as well as Barcelona do at the Camp Nou will always have a chance in any competition.