Luis Suárez scored a hat trick.
Let’s just get this out of the way now. Luis Suárez scored three total goals against Real Betis in Barcelona’s 6-2 thrashing of Real Betis. And two of them were really, really, REALLY great goals! The kind of goals that that reaffirm his status as the best striker in the world, a truly singular talent who can do everything from the number 9 position. We’ll talk about them a little bit more later, but these were honest-to-goodness goals that make you shake your head at just how special Luis Suárez is and go, “Oh, this is same son of a bitch who won the Pichichi last year; the guy who drove Liver-fucking-pool to the brink of a Premier League title in the year of our Lord 2014.”
But we’re here to talk about Lionel Messi. Even while Suárez was operating at peak levels of devastation, this match was about Lionel Andrés Messi. In a game where his sudamericano counterpart bagged three goals, the mite-sized Leviathan from Argentina offered up an exhibition in singular genius. The modern legends are exalted for their ability to merely breathe the same air as him. The past heroes were prophets preparing us for him. He is the One True God.
Yeah, it’s almost 13 minutes, but it’s almost 13 minutes of Messi, and Barca as a whole, beating the brakes off of a mid-table team. On La Liga’s opening day, the Blaugrana opted for a tour de force. You wanna go through each play and slobber over just how stupid this team, spearheaded by the g r e a t e s t p l a y e r o f a l l t i m e, is? Well, that’s just what we’re gonna do.
Let’s break it down by timestamp on the video. I added some videos of select plays, because apparently WordPress is some haters and don’t want me to prosper and use GIFs anymore. The videos aren’t clean in terms of there’s too much cushion on each side sometimes, to which I say, fuck you, I tried hard as hell on these shits.
Oh, yeah, the football.
0:20 – And so La Pulga kicks off this highlight video with one of the Messi motifs: the cross-field diagonal ball to the opposite forward/fullback. He’s made this a specialty since Neymar and Suárez have come into the fold, shifting the balance of the field after attracting too much attention to his side. When two of the world’s five best players joined him in Cataluña, the 5’6″ goalscoring machine became the best passer in the world, cause I guess that’s a fun thing to do. Here’s the situation right before Lionel uncorked his pass:For those of us struggling with colorblindness/arithmetic, that’s eight Betis players, although two are just rushing back. There’s six Barca players in the mix. Aaaand then this happens:
That’s just Messi using his left foot to simply send a 40-yard ball to a sprinting Jordi Alba, who subsequently sets up Arda Turan for easy buckets. I don’t even know anyone else who attempts this pass with any regularity (please, inform me; this all carries the Karl Don’t Know Dick caveat). Messi does it multiple times a game with all the effort of a slightly-more-than-mild sneeze.
2:15 – Messi plays a quick one-two in the box before getting his shot blocked. After the block, the ball lands back at his feet, and he responds with a right-footed rip kissing the crossbar. Not the best defending by Betis, letting him make a run and get open after the pass, but it wasn’t like there was a lack of effort on Messi’s part. That’s just another part of just how complete he is: he can dribble around 100 people, shoot your fucking eyes out, and even at the size of a promising tween, he has a mastery of the penalty box. Even if he doesn’t get on the end of each cross with his head, he finds space to get on the end of balls during Barca’s dizzying exchanges and slot them home.
2:44 – And we have our first La Liga goal of the season from el genio de Rosario. Look, I don’t know why they gave him any space right outside the box. We’ve seen this a million times. It’s another of his motifs: get the ball in the right channel, go middle, skip past one/two/seven dudes, and rip a shot to the far post. I mean, easy for my ass to say it as I eat jambalaya. Everybody knows it’s what he wants to do, but it ain’t so easy to stop. Usually the shot has a bit more finesse, but this time he just hits the dick out of the ball. Goalie doesn’t have a chance in the fucking world, man.
3:53 – Hold on, this is Suárez’s first goal. Dude, that shit ain’t no goddamn joke. A cross on the ground flying at his feet, and he one-times it with his laces *across his body* for a perfect laser to the far post. That’s really some “Hey it’s like me and three other people that can do this” type-shit. Luis Suárez is the best striker in the world and a true joy to watch. Most other days, a goal like that, along with the rest of his day, would be the lead story. But this ain’t one of those days.
5:01 – Hahahaha I love Arda Turan so much. After being the baby star on the Euro 2008 Turkey squad and him humming his shoe at the linesman during open play, he is unimpeachable. On this play, Messi gets set up nicely in the middle and does *the* classic Messi shot with designs on curling it far post. However, Antonio Adán made a great save, although not enough to stop it altogether. No worries, Antonio, Arda’s there to try and clean up the ball rolling toward the net and get called for being offside. What a guy. (I am very happy Turan is getting a chance to shine in Neymar’s absence and doing well; he’s brilliant)
5:42 – Another strong, curled shot that Adán somehow turns away. Really, the main story here is just how sharp Luis Suárez is. He gets the ball, plays it out wide, and immediately gets a one-touch pass headed back to him. BUT, he somehow understands Messi is on his other side running onto it, and lets the ball roll to him for the shot. Suárez really can do it all. He has strength on the ball, he can dribble past guys (and DEMORALIZE them), he can finish with the best of them, and he’s got a special understanding of how to work with teammates. I am so glad he has gotten to play with Messi, just to give the GOAT a center forward who sees the game in the same way as him.
6:21 – The little fucker tries a ridiculous lofted pass, which is thankfully snuffed out by Betis (thankfully because you have to throw hands if he does that to you). Barca immediately presses, and Messi goes into perro mode and gets the rock back. He immediately skips past one guy, draws the eyes of the entire Betis defense, cuts to get enough space, and sets up Denis Suárez for a beautiful shot in the middle of the box. He’s all alone, but the ball is lofted and a bit behind him, so he has to pull some scissor-kick-ish shit. All things considered, Suárez does well with the ball, although it goes straight to Adán for a comfortable save. But another play by Messi, getting around multiple guys and setting up a teammate in space. Water wet, Jupiter large, Messi good.
7:01 – Genius. That about covers it. I’m perfectly fine with the doctor who gave Messi hormone therapy winning the Nobel Prize for Medicine every year for the rest of his life.
Barca clears a Betis corner, and it ends up at Messi’s feet with three quarters of the pitch ahead of him. He carries it, carries it, gets near the Betis box, and at this point one of their defenders decides, “Well, fuck, can’t avoid this anymore,” and gives it the old La Liga try. Well, Messi slaloms past him, passes it outside, then beats *three* more guys with a diagonal run into the box. Upon receiving it, he sends a perfect weighted ball across his fucking body, across goal, to give Luisito a tap-in. It helps having teammates who facilitate your greatness, but Messi’s singular genius concocts a goal out of this. The pace, the dribbling, the off-ball movement, the perfect pass: when players have TWO of the skills shown here, they are marvelous, world class talents. Meanwhile this asshole just corks out a PCP hallucination every other time he gets the ball.
8:38 – I mean, I’ve seen this a million times before, but it’s still refreshing to see Messi hitting ’em with the laces. Maybe this he’s gonna try more power shots all year, just cause he’s bored and needs a new challenge, a la Larry Bird playing left-handed.
And now for the reason the title of this fucking blog is what it is: I was legitimately worried about Messi after this summer. After the heartbreak of the Copa America, where Messi, with the weight of Argentina’s voracious hopes taking an extended rest on his back, skied his penalty kick to fucking Venus, I was worried. He quit the national team! He was so broken after all the disappointment in his nation’s colors that he was ready to walk away (or, it was a leverage play to push for organziational change within the AFA, but don’t fuck up the narrative, here, man. We’re spinnin’ yarns, fool) from it all.
Then, he came back with that blonde ass hair, and I was certain: he’d finally snapped. He had a breakdown after the constant shit he gets in Argentina, what with being the best player in the world, but never being able to secure a trophy for his homeland outside of the Olympics or youth levels. No matter how brilliant he is, no matter how well or not well his team played, an excruciating tournament final loss was around the corner, because life doesn’t give a fuck about your feelings. The questions popped up all over again: “why can’t he be the same player for Argentina that he is in Spain?” “Why can’t he be like Maradona?” I hate speculating on psychological bullshit concerning athletes, but I (did it anyway cause I’m a prick) thought it all finally pushed him past his limit.
Well, I guess he’s all right. He’s back in the national team fold, having not missed one Argentina match. His blonde hair, while still unsettling, sure looks good when he scores. The effortlessness of this instep drive betrays a guy who’s back to doing what he does best, what he does better than anyone ever: sliding around the tackles of defenders who even know they’re done when they go for the challenge, hitting passes all over the field, and slamming shots home from every angle you can think of, and some you can’t. And then smiling when his little plan that subverts the rules of football the rest of us humans have to follow all works out.
9:47 – Again, the motherfucker is just relentless, bruh. A Barca pass goes astray, so Messi figures he’ll just go and get the ball back, thank you very much. Ball acquired, he plays it out wide and breaks toward the box in one motion. He receives a pass back, because you reward the little Large Hadron Collider project come to life when he bursts into space, and he one-times a shot, only to be blocked again.
10:13 – Okay, here’s Suárez’s third goal. WOO, boy, that is a fucking free kick and a half. Again, these are goals that only world class players can pull off. Unfortunately, Luis’s buddy picked Saturday as the day to reassert his status as galaxy class. Still: Suárez’s goal ain’t nothing to sneeze at. Reminder: their other star, the other guy who’s one of the five best players in the world, isn’t even back from winning his country gold in the Olympics. How Barca are allowed to have this triumvirate of hellfire is beyond me.
11:40 – And one for the road. Messi heads a ball back to Suárez, cause he can do that too, I guess. He eventually gets the ball back in a sliver of space on the edge of the box. His first touch takes him to more space inside, he avoids a sliding tackle by millimeters while maintaining perfect balance, and feeds a perfect weighted ball to Digne, who gets stymied by Adán. He’s turning precise, perfect execution into the routine.
By my count, Messi had seven shots on goal, with two of those resulting in goals. Real Betis had six total shots. As a team. Not on goal. They only had two on goal. So, that’s a bit of a disparity (Barca had 30 total shots and 12 on goal as a whole). He also had the beautiful assist to Suárez, and two more tantalizing chances created for other teammates. Oh, and there was that hockey assist to Alba to set up the first goal. There is no spectacle quite like watching Lionel Andrés Messi tie a pocket watch to his left foot, hypnotize the entire match and exert total control over it for 90 minutes. The defenders follow his every move until he feels ready to dispose of them. The physics of the game bend to his will. The crowd groans with terror or roars with joy, depending on partisan interests. He creates what he wants, either for himself or his teammates. He is in charge of this universe, so our job is to just figure out if he’s a benevolent overlord.
Lionel Messi is back in our lives, and he’s doing all right. Let’s enjoy it.