Lionel Messi made his first start in nearly two months last night and, quite frankly, acted as though he’d never been away, scoring two and setting up another as Barcelona destroyed Roma 6-1 in its penultimate group stage match of the Champions League. Barcelona is now guaranteed a top spot in its group and the quarter-finals with a game to spare.
Luis Suárez opened the scoring after a quarter of an hour walking the ball into the goal after a nice team move but it was Messi’s first a few minutes later which was the pick of the bunch. While Messi’s chipped finish over Roma goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was exquisite, the build up to the goal was perhaps even more impressive. In the 76 seconds leading up to the goal there were 28 passes with every outfield Barcelona player involved in the move to send the Catalans two goals ahead.
Suárez added his second before halftime but after the interval Barcelona didn’t ease off, as Messi set up center back Gerard Piqué for a tap in to make it 4-0. La Pulga then added his second of the night on the hour mark from close range after his first shot had been saved.
Barcelona won a penalty with 13 minutes to go but the Argentina captain passed up the opportunity to seal his hat-trick and allowed Brazilian forward Neymar to take the penalty. It may not have been the best decision Messi has ever made, as Neymar’s penalty was saved although left back Adriano was on hand to thump home the rebound.
Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko missed a penalty for Roma late on, although he did manage to pick up a goal with the last kick of the game.
After the final whistle, Messi dismissed talk of his team being dependent on him, adding that, “I didn’t have a great time being on the sidelines but I enjoyed watching what my teammates did in every match.”
Messi made his comeback off the bench against Real Madrid over the weekend, playing the last half an hour and setting up a goal, but today Messi played the whole 90 minutes last night and looked back to his best.