Most players, after a spell on the sidelines through injury, are afforded the luxury of a few matches to get back up to speed and obtain match fitness; Lionel Messi is no ordinary player and last night in the Camp Nou the best player in the world returned to the Barcelona starting eleven for the first time since injuring his knee at the end of September and helped blow Roma away in the Champions League.
It must be said that in the absence of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have been in scintillating form and maintained Barcelona’s impressive form but when the three are together and playing as they did on Tuesday night it is something to be admired.
Barcelona were already a goal up through Suarez when Messi truly announced his return, finishing off the move of the match with an exquisite chip over Wojciech Szczęsny. 27 passes from the Barca defence suddenly increased in tempo before Messi was released with a ball over the top. There were no signs of rust as the Argentina captain pulled the ball down and deftly flicked it into the net.
27 – There were 27 passes ahead of Lionel Messi’s goal vs AS Roma, a season-high in the Champions League. Smooth. pic.twitter.com/gi2PFIaVJ0
Suarez volleyed in the third, Messi laid one on for Gerard Pique before adding a second of his own and when both strikers could have completed hat-tricks from the penalty spot, the ball was given to Neymar. The Brazilian actually saw his effort saved but Adriano smashed in the rebound to complete the rout.
Messi’s return at a time when the team is playing at such a level is obviously good news for Barcelona and their hopes of repeating the treble heroics of last season but for Argentina too. Victory against Colombia last time out for La Albiceleste has gone someway to lifting the gloom but there is still plenty of work to do for World Cup qualification. Having a fit again Lionel Messi available will be music to the ears of the under-fire Gerardo Martino.
Following his role in the demolition of Roma, Messi told reporters: “I am happy for the game, for the result, and for having played 90 minutes again. I am coming back bit by bit, and fortunately all is going well.
“It was tough to get going again. I prepared well and I trained. But it is not the same to train as to go out on the pitch and last the 90 minutes.
“I will be relaxed, and will get my rhythm back. I did not feel good not being out on the pitch, but I did enjoy seeing what my teammates were doing in each game.”
There is a good argument that this year’s Ballon d’or top three could well be Barcelona’s attacking trident of Messi, Neymar and Suarez and with such attacking wealth it is difficult not to envisage Barcelona celebrating another very successful season. Messi though was quick to downplay such talk:
“We are at a very good level, but there is still a long way to go until the decisive time of the season in La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, which is getting going now.
“We are not yet in December. We must think in the short-term, on what is coming, the La Liga games before the World Club Cup, and nothing else.”
Barcelona will travel to Japan for the World Club Cup next month and could well face Copa Libertadores winners, River Plate. Quite how River are going to be able to stop this Barcelona side is anyone’s guess.