For so long, the idea of Lionel Messi being anywhere other than Barcelona seemed utterly alien, but if he was going to leave, teaming up with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City – a club so heavily influenced by the Blaugrana – was surely the most likely option.
But there he was, lining up in the navy blue of Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes on Tuesday, Guardiola in the opposite dugout and City on the other side of the pitch.
There was more than a hint of inevitability about what came to pass, as Messi made a telling impact in trademark fashion towards the end to put the match beyond City in what was a 2-0 win for PSG.
But the predictability of his decisiveness didn’t exactly come from an overriding brilliance that was displayed in this encounter in general.
In fact, Messi was somewhat subdued for much of the match.
His first-half performance was littered – by his standards, anyway – with heavy touches and his influence in the final third was lacking.
After all, he finished the game without contributing a single key pass, making this one of only four matches across all competitions since the beginning of last season that Messi’s started but not set up a chance in.
Of course, it’s worth taking into consideration that Messi’s arrival at PSG was delayed by his Copa America involvement, he then went away on international break and also recently suffered a minor knee injury.
A slow start was almost to be expected in those circumstances, even for someone as good as Messi, but with City throwing men forward in search of an equaliser, you always got the sense he would get one opportunity on the break.
He did, and it produced a goal that will go down in history as his first club goal away from Barcelona.
Messi received the ball out on the right flank, just inside the City half, darted forward with much of the visitors’ side on the offensive, and as Achraf Hakimi overlapped on the right, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner cut inside.
He held off Rodri as he played a one-two with Kylian Mbappe, the Frenchman’s touch exceptional given the pressure he was under, and Messi strode on to the return pass before guiding it effortlessly into the top-right corner with a first-time finish.
So much of it was quintessential Messi, from the surging 19.2-metre dash to the glorious ease with which he picked out the one area of the net Ederson wouldn’t be able to reach. It also summed up just how devastating he is: one shot, one goal.
Even with 672 club career goals preceding that one, it’s still impossible to tire from seeing Messi hit the back of the net – or, perhaps it is now a little boring if you support an English club.
That was his 27th Champions League goal against a Premier League team, which is – remarkably – 15 more than any other player (Cristiano Ronaldo, 12) in the competition’s history. Ronaldo is the only player to score more against teams from a specific nation (28 versus German clubs) in Europe’s elite competition.
While Arsenal may have proven particularly powerless against Messi over the years, conceding nine times to him in just six games, it’s fair to say he boasts a stunning record against City that few could match in this era, his tally now sitting at seven from as many games.
Messi seemingly has a similar kind of hold over Guardiola as well, given that was the seventh time he’s scored against his old boss in the Champions League, a record.
It was under Guardiola at Camp Nou that Messi was initially elevated to his world-class perch, and there he has remained.
After a rather uncharacteristically quiet beginning in Paris, perhaps it was only fitting that his mentor was there behold Messi’s true arrival in Paris.
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