Leo Messi has broken just about every record El Clásico (and Spanish football) has to offer.
No one has scored more goals in the fixture than the mighty Argentine, who has hammered Los Blancos 26 times throughout his career.
Messi has mauled Madrid in La Liga, the Supercopa de España and the UEFA Champions League. He’s even scored in the International Champions Cup, though he’s not Pelé so no one’s counting that.
The only competition where he has played Madrid and not scored against them, however, is the Copa del Rey. And he’s had ample opportunities, too. Seven times he’s faced Los Blancos in Copa action, six times from the start.
Yet he has never managed to score. He’s set-up goals, most memorably for Eric Abidal in 2012, but he’s never found the back of the net himself.
That could be about to change as he heads into the semi-final second leg against Los Blancos at the Santiago Bernabeu. The game is the first of a double header against their hated rivals and should provide him with the perfect platform to finally break his duck.
First; he’s in good form against Madrid in general. In his last three starts against them he’s scored four times leading to two wins and a draw, which was fine as the Blaugrana were miles ahead at the top of the league.
Included in those goals is his monumental last-second winner in the Bernabeu, where he memorably celebrated by holding his shirt aloft for all of Madrid to see.
He played 27 minutes half-fit in the first leg of this Copa semi, and since then has been spluttering his way back to form. He was profligate against Valladolid, missing a penalty (but also scoring one) and he didn’t punish Lyon even though he should have done.
Saturday, however, brought him face-to-face with his favourite victim and the perfect warm-up for his Clásico double header.
Poor, poor Sevilla. In La Liga they’ve only ever beaten Messi once, and that was back in 2006/07 when they had Dani Alves running the show and Messi was part of a complacent Barcelona side. Since then it’s been win after win after win after win with a handful of draws thrown in.
Sure, in the cups Sevilla have had a bit more success (notably knocking Messi and Barcelona out of the Copa del Rey in 2010) but this has mostly been a one-way street and that trend continued at the Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán on Saturday afternoon.
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In glorious sunshine Barcelona went both 1-0 and 2-1 down. Both times it was Messi who pulled his side level with goals so good they would certainly be any other player’s best of the season, but for Messi were just routine.
First a sumptuously struck volley from the top of box made it 1-1. Celebrated with true vigour, it was like Messi roared himself out of his recent stupor of one goal in four games.
Now wide awake, Messi made it 2-2 with a near-impossible shot from the edge of the box. Impossible because it came on his supposedly weaker foot. Yet Messi had no issue taking one touch and, with little backlift, placing the ball high into the corner of the net beyond the despairing dive of the goalkeeper.
He celebrated by leaping into Ousmane Dembélé’s arms in a pose that recalled Pelé, but he wasn’t done.
To win the game and give Barça a delirious 10-point cushion (which has since been cut to seven) over second-placed Atleti, Messi scored a goal so good that it looked utterly simple.
A Carles Aleña shot was deflected into his path, but the excellent Tomas Vaclik was charging out to meet him.
It would have been understandable for Messi to blast his shot right at Vaclik, or try and go around him (as Jesse Lingard would do to Alisson the next day). Instead Messi took no touch to steady himself, and simply stepped into one of the most deft chips you will ever see.
Lionel Messi loves a game against Sevilla.
🔴 25 games
🔵 28 goals
🔴 19 wins
🔵 5 draws
🔴 1 loss
Today: A hat-trick and an assist in a 4-2 win… 🤯 pic.twitter.com/gkOUsi0aaX
— Coral (@Coral) February 23, 2019
The ball floated over Vaclik and into the back of the net, sealing Messi’s 50th career hat-trick and giving the Blaugrana their first lead.
To cap things off, Messi lofted through a gorgeously weighted through-ball for Luis Suárez later on, allowing the Uruguayan to chip Vaclik to score and end his own personal goal problems (six games without a goal, just one in previous nine).
You know Messi is in rhythm when he’s helping hitherto useless team-mates get back in form with absurd nonchalance.
And this is what Madrid must fear. They just about came away from the Camp Nou with a draw thanks mostly to the awful form of Suárez and Philippe Coutinho. But now Suárez has a goal, and Dembélé will reduce Coutinho to a substitute.
Those changes alone would be enough to scare Madrid, after all Barcelona slapped them 5-1 earlier in the season without Messi. But now that the great man is back in business?
Now that he’s just hit a hat-trick and picked up an assist away from home against a tricky opponent? Now he’s heading into his 40th Clásico with a new record to set (no one has ever scored Clásico goals across four different competitions) and a fifth consecutive Copa del Rey final spot to secure? They will be petrified.
Whatever happens on Wednesday, we’ll be in for a treat.