Football Features

“Never give him a second chance” – Messi’s magical 2021 continues as brilliant brace keeps Barcelona in La Liga title race

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:39, 2 May 2021 | Updated: 19:21, 10 September 2021

In an incredible night of football, Barcelona beat Valencia in a sensational five goal thriller to keep pace in La Liga.

The win sends Barcelona up to third and gives them a great chance to actually win La Liga. Which is incredible for anyone who remembers how poorly they started the season.

Barcelona’s return to title contenders following half a season looking very much like they were well on their way to becoming a Catalan version of Arsenal or AC Milan has been a pleasant surprise. And while the good vibes around the club owe a lot to the ousting of Josep Bartomeu as president (and especially the recent election of Joan Laporta as his replacement), on the field the explanation is less abstract:

Lionel Messi.

The legendary Argentine came into 2021 with just 7 goals in La Liga. After tonight’s game at the Mestallah, Messi is currently leading the Pichichi race with 28 goals. That means in 2021 the greatest player in the world has scored 21 goals in La Liga.

21 goals in 17 games!

That is more than any other player across Europe’s top five leagues (Robert Lewandowski is next up with 19 goals in 14 games). He’s also got 8 assists in that time (only two players have more). His direct goal involvement of 29 stands tall above anyone else in Europe. Moreover his 75 completed dribbles is a number only Adama Traoré can better.

Wasn’t this guy supposed to be finished?

Valencia will certainly wish he was finished after what he did to them tonight in Mestalla; a ground where Barcelona haven’t won since 2017 when Sergio Busquets stole a last minute winner for them. Tonight it was a different vibe and they were in total control for most of the game.

They struggled to find any cutting edge, however. And when Valencia took the lead it looked like being “one of those nights” where nothing goes right. Then when Messi missed his penalty it definitely looked like one of those nights (albeit Cillessen was off his line so it may have been retaken). But through the grit and skill of Sergio Busquets and Pedro, Messi got a second chance.

Never give Messi a second chance.

Busquets bagged the rebound after Jasper Cillessen’s save and knocked it back for Pedri to fire at goal. That shot was blocked on the line but Messi was in position to stab home the second rebound and draw Barcelona level.

Antoine Griezmann later gave Barcelona the lead, jabbing another rebound home after an excellent Frenkie de Jong header was saved again by Cillessen. The Dutch goalkeeper was having a great night but he could do nothing about what was coming next.

With 69 minutes on the clock, Messi stepped up and took a bafflingly beautiful free-kick. With a short two-step run-up Messi just clipped the ball so softly yet it soared off the pitch, over the ball and straight at goal. This cross was so perfectly placed that even with Cillessen at full-stretch he had no chance; the ball struck the inside of the post and bounced. 8 Ball in the side pocket.

A record 50 free-kicks scored for Barcelona. Game over (even allowing for Soler’s thunderbolt) and much as always been this case in 2021, the Blaugrana win again thanks to Lionel Messi.

The victory lifts Barcelona to third, level on points with Real Madrid. They are one game back on Atlético and if they beat them at the weekend they could go top of La Liga. As long as Real Madrid drop points somewhere in their tricky run-in, Barcelona need only to win all their games to reclaim their La Liga title.

That won’t be easy, but with Leo Messi in the kind of searing goalscoring form that he’s been in since the turn of the year, would you bet against the Blaugrana? 21 goals in 2021; the Argentine juggernaut is rolling towards La Liga!