It finally happened.
Lionel Messi did what he had never done and scored against Gianluigi Buffon, not once but twice.
Before the game that had been one subplot of the biggest fixture on the opening day of the 2017/18 Champions League season. The game had centred around the Buffon/Messi narrative, but when the jinx finally got broken, everybody in the stadium had seen it coming, except probably Buffon.
The game ended in an emphatic 3-0 win with Messi scoring a breathtaking brace as Barça rubbished suggestions they were no longer to be reckoned with at Europe’s top table, subsequently quelling suggestions that Juventus could usurp them as the third member of Europe’s big three clubs.
This was a whitewash victory, and they ended up rubbishing Juve’s upstart status as they did to PSG, the last team to meet them in such inspired form, and paying Juve back for eliminating them in the last edition of the Champions League.
Recapturing their magic
It was supposed to be an evenly matched tie with both teams heading into the game in good form.
Barcelona had decimated Espanyol 5-0 at the weekend, with Messi helping himself to a hat-trick, whilst Max Allegri had the good grace to rest his key players with the Champions League tie high in his mind as they defeated Chievo 3-0.
However, when it boiled down to 90 minutes of pure football, all bets were off and a footballing masterclass from the Catalan club, and from Messi in particular, meant the Italian champions were properly beaten.
Barcelona were not supposed to do that; they were supposed to be on their way down from the pinnacle of European football.
They were soundly beaten in the Spanish Super Cup by their arch-rivals, Real Madrid, a loss which prompted several statements about losing their place in the European hierarchy, especially with the loss of Neymar and manner in which they were beaten.
Their failures in the transfer window also hurt, but those comments have rung hollow now, as they’re slowly but surely getting their mojo back.
The roundest of all pegs
The first thing Ernesto Valverde did was to set Leo, his best player, in the position where he can cause the most havoc for the opposition, which was central.
Even if this has had a negative effect on Luis Suarez, who was supposed to be in the striking role, Leo’s stats (eight goals in six games, his best start to a season since 2013/14 when he last played in that role) only serves to stress that Valverde seems to have made the right decision in fitting his roundest peg in the best hole for it at the expense of others.
The Valverde effect
The pace that has been brought in with the purchase of Ousmane Dembele is one that will go a long way in trying to replace Neymar.
He was spectacular on Tuesday with his runs and alongside Nelson Semedo; they were constant threats in the game, their pace proving too much for the ageing Juventus backline.
It showed that, despite the obvious failures in the transfer window, all was not doom and gloom.
With the purchase of Semedo, they’ve taken care of the right-back position that was threatening to become a problematic one, and in Dembele, they’ve brought in an excellent replacement for the departed Neymar.
Ernesto Valverde has also gotten Ivan Rakitic to show the form that made him such a key player in his first season under Luis Enrique.
His lung-busting runs now full of purpose and the lackadaisical use of the ball now gone, he is getting into exciting positions at both ends of the field which has subsequently made Andres Iniesta’s job easier as the ageing Spaniard doesn’t have to run, run and run anymore.
More than a feeling
The team still has a lot to do to keep up the winning run though and the bench options will also have a big say on how the season pans out even if most of those options are not of the quality expected of a Barcelona squad.
However, the main thing the win has proved to the watching world is that with Messi inspired, there’s always a glimmer of hope to rely on.
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