La Liga Weekend: Lionel Messi Stuns Us All Again
Once again, Lionel Messi stuns anyone that comes to watch him. The Barcelona captain is now 31-years-old and has earned every attribute and accolade available, but once again Messi stuns with genuine ingenuity and diversity never seen in world sport. He can do it all, so with him leading the charge, Barcelona can win it all.
Lionel Messi Stuns Us All Again
Real Betis 1-4 Barcelona
It’s not very often that fans stand and applaud an opposing team’s player. Some famous examples include Ronaldinho at the Bernabeu or Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus last season, but on Sunday, after Messi scored a world-class chip, Los Beticos stood, applauded and paid their respects to another all-time performance from the Argentine magician.
Messi’s stunning chip was the crown jewel of all-around peak performance. Barcelona went for a very workmanlike approach to this game. Four central midfielders strung across a line behind Messi and Luis Suarez seeded much of the possession to Betis. Barcelona’s 44% first-half possession is their lowest in over ten years, but it didn’t matter.
The working midfield allowed Messi to pull all the strings. He was spraying balls from all over the midfield, he was tracking back and defending despite not needing to, and he was combining with Suarez for some outrageous play. Suarez must’ve missed three or four sitters where Messi might’ve gotten an assist.
The Barca Bromance
The two best friends still produced some incredible goals in spite of Suarez’s misses. Messi’s second goal was set up by a stunning chopped assist from the Uruguayan. The ball played Messi in behind four Betis defenders before he slapped it home, but that wasn’t even close to the best play Suarez had in this game.
He took on five Betis defenders, leaving the first two in the dust, then turned Marc Bartra’s knees to water before jumping over a sliding Aissa Mandi and smashing it home. After strong performances against both Real Madrid and Lyon, Suarez seems to be coming into the type of form Barca need.
It was easy to expect changes with Zinedine Zidane returning to Madrid. It doesn’t take a genius to expect players like Keylor Navas, Marcelo and Isco to come back into the fold now that Santi Solari is gone. Even more likely was that those players would come back in and play well, which is exactly what they did.
One of the most interesting things about Zidane’s first spell at Real Madrid was the number of crosses his side put in. Over his two-and-a-half years as manager, Madrid put in the second most crosses in Europe, usually with Cristiano Ronaldo to score them, but without Ronaldo, Zidane’s new team wasn’t going to stop.
They got in 22 crosses in the game against Celta Vigo. One of the biggest things about bringing Marcelo back into the fold will be those crosses. Marcelo loves the low cut-back cross and he pulled it out of his hat plenty of times on Saturday. It was his best performance of the season – he was involved in the first goal and assisted the second.
The most important return to this team was Keylor Navas. The Costa Rican goalkeeper’s play is perfectly suited for his centre-backs, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane. The pair want a keeper that comes off his line, both as a sweeper and to claim balls in the air. Thibaut Courtois almost never comes off his line, so the return of Navas should give Real Madrid a bit more confidence.
It will be interesting to see how many of these changes that Zinedine Zidane makes are permanent. Zidane will probably stick with this group to try and build some momentum. Once he gets some momentum he will most likely make changes. Zidane returned to judge the whole squad before going into the summer, he will take every chance he has to work towards that.