“If Messi had been wearing an Atlético shirt, we would have won,” Diego Simeone said after watching his Atlético Madrid side’s title hopes all but disappear with defeat to Barcelona on Sunday. That statement may not explain Atleti’s lacklustre display but Lionel Messi was decisive and it was the Argentinian’s superb free-kick that secured the vital three points for Barcelona.
Messi’s 600th career goal sent Barça eight points clear of Atlético and with eleven games remaining, the still unbeaten league leaders would need to lose three times.
Barcelona deserved their victory but it came down to another exquisite Messi free-kick, a third in three consecutive LaLiga matches.
Last weekend it was slipped under a leaping wall, in midweek it was fired like laser into the top corner supposedly covered by the goalkeeper and against Atleti, Messi curled the ball over the ball and just out of reach of the fingertips of Jan Oblak.
A measure of the player that such a spectacular, match-winning strike was almost expected but Messi is having another truly memorable season as Barcelona fight for another historic treble.
With 24 goals and 12 assists, Messi leads LaLiga in both statistics and this latest effort may just have wrapped up the league. Eleven games remain, a Copa del Rey final and plenty to do in the Champions League but Messi is producing some of his best football and in a World Cup year, Argentina will be praying that their captain brings the same to Russia.