Less than three months have passed but it is worth raising the question. Was that really Lionel Messi at the World Cup, or a remarkably realistic doppelganger stumbling his way through the tournament while the real Argentinean superstar had his feet up on a secret beach somewhere?
For just a few weeks back into the domestic season and after one night of action in the new Champions League campaign, and Messi is back to his true best, showing spectacular form for FC Barcelona on Tuesday night.
Against PSV Eindhoven, Messi inspired Barca to a 4-0 victory with a sensational hat-trick, highlighted by a superb 25-yard free kick to open the scoring. We shouldn’t be surprised.
He had already scored four times in as many games in the Spanish league and Tuesday’s first goal meant he has now scored in the Champions League for 14 straight seasons.
So what happened over the summer? And why does he perform in such a substandard manner for his country, compared to his club?
At the World Cup, Messi wasn’t just poor by the standards of one of the world’s true elite players, he was just another player, and at times, a liability. He appeared tortured at times and disinterested at others, with his shoulders slumped, face pained, unable to get anything going. Argentina was fortunate to progress to the round of 16, and was swiftly dispatched by eventual champion France once there.
Back then the narrative was that his career was on its downward spiral, and that he may never play in another World Cup. Watching him against PSV, it seemed as though he could go on forever.
While the opening goal dominated the highlight reel, his second and third, coming after Ousmane Dembele added to Barcelona’s advantage, were also technically sublime.
This was his 42nd career hat-trick and his free-kick mastery is as strong as ever. Ivan Rakitic, his teammate, admitted that Messi’s colleagues start thinking about what goal celebration to do whenever he lines up a free kick within striking distance.
Messi is a true soccer gem, one of the best ever seen, and with Cristiano Ronaldo gone to Juventus, the undisputed king of Spanish club soccer. PSV coach Marc van Bommel said before the game that he didn’t want his players fighting over who got to swap shirts with Messi. He was only half joking.
Whatever the reason Messi has a tough time playing for Argentina, it is all forgotten on nights like these when Messi makes the extraordinary look normal.
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