When Lionel Messi is at his peak, there is still nobody in the game who comes close to him.
On the back of a difficult spell for the Argentine, his stunning individual performance in the 2-1 victory over Manchester City should finally see talk of his on-off form and injury woes put well and truly behind him.
Following Barcelona’s defeat to Real Valladolid at the weekend, Messi was – and not for the first time in 2013-14 – the target for criticism, but on another big European night he again showed how ridiculous it is to write off a player of his class.
Considering the opposition, this showing was undoubtedly the best we have seen from Messi since his cameo against Paris Saint-Germain in the last-eight of last season’s Champions League – around the time when his persistent injury problems began.
After the match, under-pressure coach Tata Martino responded to a question on Messi’s display by saying he had provided the perfect response to the recent negativity. He said: “Sometimes criticism can provoke a reaction from the best players – they have a lot of pride.”
The Argentine set the tone for a stunning individual performance right from the word go at Camp Nou on Wednesday night, tracking back all the way to his own penalty box to dispossess international team-mate Sergio Aguero in an early statement of intent.
It was by no means typical Messi, but following a week where he, his team-mates and coach Martino have come under intense scrutiny, he led by example.
He gave the hapless Joleon Lescott a torrid night from start to finish. After just eight minutes, his feet were too quick for the Englishman on the first of many occasions, but somehow he was denied a penalty to howls of derision from the vocal Camp Nou crowd.
Unperturbed, a classic spell-binding run resulted in Vincent Kompany having to hack a clearance off the goal-line before the Argentine was involved in a slick passing move that led to Neymar’s wrongly disallowed goal.
In barely 20 minutes, Messi was already providing a star turn.
He then set up Xavi, who forced Joe Hart into action with a sliding effort, before another magical run moments later. He turned the powerful Kompany inside out before threading a pass through to Neymar, who forced Fernandinho into City’s second goal-line clearance of the night.