Messi’s latest Champions League performance is the latest manifestation of his ongoing greatness.
Lionel Messi scored another hat-trick this week. It was his eighth in Champions League play, the most ever, and it dispatched PSV Eindhoven in FC Barcelona’s first UCL group-stage game.
It’s only a continuation of his form in La Liga, which is everything that you’d expect from Lionel Messi: He is tied for the most goals (four) and tied for the most assists (two), and he has the most key passes (four per game), the most shots per game (4.5), the most dribbles per game (4.8) and the most through-balls per game (2.3) — his closest through-ball competitors in all of Europe are Neymar and Philippe Coutinho. They have 0.8 per game each.
He is playing about as well as he always has, which is hard to fathom given the utter domination he continues to inflict on what is probably the best league in the world. He dominates games in ways only he can; he holds a constant, immovable influence on every match he plays, and shows out as by far the best player on the field every time. Barca have yet to drop points in any game they’ve played this season.
Against PSV, FCB won 4-0, another convincing performance from a team that has looked definitively like the best in Spain. They’ve grinded out tough wins (1-0 over Valladolid, 2-1 over Real Sociedad) and ran over inferior teams (3-0 over Alaves, an emphatic 8-2 over Huesca). Barca have been perfect.
Messi, as always, has been better than everyone else. He continues to play all over the formation, but has seen much of his success as an inverted right winger, where he can cut onto his left foot and freely make magic happen. A creative, flashy Barca side, in which Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele are thriving, has been able to thoroughly take advantage.
That this comes on the heels of Argentina’s disastrous World Cup performance, and the clear disdain felt by Messi as he endured the drama of it all, is interesting context for another GOAT season. He looks faster and more energetic on the ball this year, as though some pressures have been lifted. Given that he’s always played better with his club, it makes sense. But it feels notable how much more free and how much faster he has looked.
The clearest indication of Messi’s ongoing greatness is how you can count on people to produce YouTube compilations of his touches from every individual game he plays. Not game highlights, just every Messi touch:
Type in “Messi” on YouTube and one of the first results you’ll get is “Messi vs. (whatever team Barcelona most recently played). The PSV one seems to have been taken down for copyright reasons, but there was one up at some point, and it had thousands of views.
People recognize that Messi’s transcedescence rests not in the highlight-reel goals and never-ending statistical dominance, but in his ability to do something smart, productive and often amazing every time he’s on the ball. He has an air about him when he receives it, the way he does everything so beautifully and flawlessly. He’s always slaloming past defenders and carefully placing the ball through the channels, and when he does things like that, you know that was the best possible decision he could have made. It’s unmatched intelligence and off-the-charts soccer IQ.
He’ll continue to do this, as he has for a decade plus, and Barcelona will continue winning trophies — they project as the clear favorites to take La Liga, and a wide open Champions League is there for the taking. Tune in, because you’ll never see someone like this on a soccer field again.