Football Features

“The eternal and impossible quality of Leo Messi” sees Barcelona blow Valladolid away

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:42, 29 October 2019

In a breathtaking night of football, Barcelona demolished Valladolid 5-1 to return to the top of La Liga thanks to a Leo Messi masterclass.

The Blaugrana took the lead after just two minutes when a poor Valladolid clearance fell to Clement Lenglet and the French defender thundered the ball in off the bar. But Barcelona didn’t really control the game and so Valladolid fought their way back into the match, equalising through Kiko Olivas who stabbed home after a poor save from Marc-André Ter Stegen.

So fifteen minutes gone and the game basically had to start again. Valladolid had rocked up to the Camp Nou stringing five men across their defence, meaning that the Blaugrana’s primary route to goal – Jordi Alba’s overlapping runs – was going to be directly stifled. Their goal had been something of a fluke and the midfield didn’t look coherent. Could Valladolid spring an upset?

Turns out, no. No they could not.

And it wasn’t some great tactical shift from Valverde that turned things around. This wasn’t like the Inter match where he changed the midfield shape to destabilise the opponents. Nor was it another one of those games where Suárez pulls a ridiculous worldie finish out of nowhere (also like the Inter match).

No, Barcelona seized control of this match and moves back to the top of La Liga through a much more repeatable miracle: Leo Messi. The Argentine began this season suffering from injuries and basically had to go through his own personal pre-season in competitive games, looking sluggish in the process. So he only has five league goals, for instance, rather than his usual earth-shattering totals.

With the Ballon d’Or around the corner, Messi’s slow start to the season seemed to have made everyone forget just how good he is. People have been hyping up Virgil van Dijk as a possible winner of France Football’s showy (but ultimately pointless) prize. Now the Dutchman is a world-class footballer, to be sure, but given France Football’s selection criteria the idea he or anyone could beat Messi is absurd.

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The Ballon d’Or criteria are:

  1. Individual and collective performances (winners) during the year.
  2. Player class (talent and fair play).
  3. Overall judgment of the player’s career.

Now, there are players who can match Messi for category one. There’s Van Dijk of course, and obviously Alisson and Roberto Firmino won the Champions League and the Copa América, Bernardo Silva won the Premier League and Nations League, etc. But when it comes to points 2 and 3 then the Argentine moves so far ahead of everyone else that the result becomes a foregone conclusion.

Tonight’s performance against Valladolid was a reminder that, when he’s fit, no one else on the planet comes close.

Messi’s first miracle in the match was his assist for Arturo Vidal’s opened. He had the ball about thirty yards from goal and saw the Chilean run through the middle unmarked, but for Messi to get the ball to him he had to chip it through and over two separate defenders whilst also dropping it short enough for Vidal to get the shot off before Jordi Masip closed him down.

This was an impossible pass. There’s no way he should have been able to pull that off. But he did. He put the ball in so perfectly that Vidal only had to touch the ball and it went in, giving Barcelona the lead once again.

Next came his first goal. A free-kick. You already know what this was; about 25-30 yards from goal and kind of centralish and Messi just launched the ball over the wall like an ICBM. This thing was perfectly aimed, beyond the reach of the despairing Jordi Masip (who, having faced Messi in training thanks to being an ex-Barcelona goalie, could not get there).

That’s 50 career free-kicks for Messi, which is a phenomenal number. He’s not quite near Juninho Pernambucano’s 77 yet, but he’s getting close. Since the start of 2016/17 he’s scored more than double the amount of free-kicks than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues. In fact since the start of last season Messi has 8 direct free-kicks scored which is more than any other club, let alone player.

Suddenly the game was moving away from Valladolid. But it took until the 75th minute for Messi to truly kill the contest, making a darting run behind the defence for Ivan Rakitic to chip a nice pass through to him. The Argentine touched the ball on his thigh, turning smoothly before absolutely hammering the ball low into the far corner, a brutal striker’s finish showing his impeccable shooting technique.

Two minutes later he added the coup de grace with a delicious through-ball for Luis Suárez to make it 5-1. Two goals, two assists – that’s four assists this season which is the joint-most in La Liga and only six players have more than his four goals.

Messi gave La Liga a headstart and allowed people to build hype for different Ballon d’Or contenders, but now he’s back in the saddle and in supreme rhythm the outcome of both La Liga and the Ballon d’Or seem inevitable. Even if something else ends up happening, the fact that they feel decided (or even close to decided) is ridiculous. Yet they do. And that speaks to the eternal and impossible quality of Leo Messi, the best player in the world.