FC Barcelona’s weekend fixture against Huesca saw Lionel Messi play in his 500th La Liga game and 750th with Barcelona. It’s a testament to his longevity and astounding ability to remain at a world-class level for over 17 seasons. With this new milestone, he’s now only five appearances away from surpassing Xavi Hernandez’s record.
A young 17-year old Messi made his league debut in 2004 against Espanyol, and the rest, as they say, is history. In many cases, in fact, Leo has defined, written, and re-written history. Across 500 appearances, Messi has tallied a staggering 451 goals and 185 assists, as well as 369 wins. He’s also led Barcelona to ten league titles.
Lionel Messi is absolutely on fire tonight.
— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 6, 2021
More than just recording mind-boggling statistics, the Argentine has had countless performances that took the world by storm. Performances that trigger tweets like the aforementioned all the time. Join us as Barça Universal takes a look back at Messi’s top three performances in La Liga.
3. Barcelona vs Real Madrid, 2007; 3-3
There is no better place to start than the match that made Messi a household name. The 2006/2007 campaign was rough for Barcelona, who were coming off La Liga and Champions League victories the prior season. Expectations were sky-high for the Catalans, but by March of 2007, they had already lost the Club World Cup, were eliminated in the Champions League round of 16 by Liverpool, and sat second in the league table.
Still, Barça were one point behind league leaders, Sevilla, with 49, and Real Madrid sat fourth with 44 points. The Catalans were also coming off two defeats in their last three matches, so their El Clásico matchup with Madrid would be consequential.
They met on March 10th with Barça starting Victor Valdés in goal; Lilian Thuram, Carles Puyol, Rafa Marquez, and Oleguer Presas in defence; Deco, Xavi Hernandez, and Andres Iniesta in midfield; and Leo Messi, Ronaldinho, and Samuel Eto’o upfront. Messi, only 19-years old at the time, returned to the starting lineup after a lengthy injury spell.
The match kicked off in front of a roaring Camp Nou crowd, but Barça got off to a poor start. Only five minutes into the game, Madrid’s talisman Gonzalo Higuain sent a low cross into the box, but Thuram poor control sent it right into the feet of Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The Dutchman curled it effortlessly past Valdes as the visitors led away.
The next few minutes of the game were chaotic, to say the least, but the hosts caught a break in the 11th minute. Marquez brought the ball to the halfway line before making a quick pass to Iniesta. The Spaniard confidently carried the ball into the final third, as he released it to Eto’o, who then played a one-two with Ronaldhino. Madrid’s stout defensive midfielder, Gago, caught a piece of the ball but Deco recovered it. Eto’o saw a marauding Lionel Messi on the edge of the penalty box and delivered him the ball. All alone, Messi was one-on-one with Casillas and cooly slotted the ball into the bottom-left corner. 1-1.
One minute later, Madrid’s Spanish mastermind Guti received the ball in Barcelona’s penalty area and was tripped by an extended leg by Presas. The Barça players were beyond frustrated with the call, but the referee gave a yellow-card nonetheless. Van Nistelrooy stepped up for the penalty and converted it with ease, as the scoreboard read 1-2 in favour of Los Blancos.
The game continued to be quite chippy as fouls dominated the match. Messi and Ronaldinho were able to find pockets of space to dribble and create havoc, but Barça’s attack could not quite break down Madrid. In the 27th minute, Ronaldinho dribbled his way into the box and played a quick give-and-go with Eto’o. The Brazilian magician fired the ball at close range, but it’s saved by Casillas who could parry it further than Messi, standing unmarked in the box. The Argentine hit the ball on the bounce and rockets it into the net. The Camp Nou erupts as the teenager helps Barcelona draw level.
Before the half, Oleguer is sent off for a brash tackle on Gago, leaving Barça with ten men for the rest of this heated contest.
The second half is more of the same as both teams exchange chances. In the 73rd minute, Madrid get a free-kick from outside the box and Guti’s ball finds Sergio Ramos’ head. The Camp Nou is stunned as the Barça players look on in disbelief. 2-3.
The Catalans got close with countless chances but couldn’t find the back of the net. Madrid looked set to bring home all three points, but Messi had something to say about that. In the 90th minute, Ronaldinho cuts in from the left-hand side and finds Messi surrounded by white shirts. The Argentine’s first touch gets him past three defenders, and he evades Helguera’s tackle. Ramos comes across the box with a last-ditch slide-challenge, but Messi already has his eyes on his target. He slots the ball into the bottom left corner at a tight angle and saves Barcelona. He kisses the fabled badge and celebrates with his teammates. When all looked lost, Messi saved the day.
A 19-year old Messi scored his first Clásico hat-trick that day, and he became the first player to do so in 12 years. He responded to Madrid’s goals with one of his own and kept Barça in the league race. They ended up losing the title to Real Madrid due to their consequential poor performances, but Messi made history that day and ensured his name would be a household one.
2. Barcelona vs Real Madrid, 2010; 5-0
Barcelona and Real Madrid met on November 29, 2010, for what is regarded as possibly the most famous Clásico of all time. More than that, the match represents Messi at his best, even if he didn’t get on the scoresheet. The fixture has since been dubbed “La Manita”, owing to the five fingers on a hand and five goals Barça put past Madrid. If one looks up the definition of “humiliation”, this match should certainly show up.
Barcelona, led by Pep Guardiola, faced off against Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid in the first Clásico of the 2010/2011 season. Madrid arrived in the Camp Nou hot after notching seven straight wins while Barça had won their past six league encounters. The Catalans sat second (31 points) in the table behind league-leaders Madrid by one point.
Barça lined up with their best starting eleven in their typical 4-3-3 formation. Valdés was in goal; Dani Alves, Puyol, Gerard Pique and Eric Abidal formed the backline; Sergio Busquets, Xavi, and Iniesta formed the midfield trio, and Messi, David Villa, and Pedro were upfront. Madrid lined up in a 4-2-3-1 with Casillas in goal; Ramos, Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe, and Marcelo in defence; Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira forming the double pivot in midfield; Mesut Ozil in the number ten role; Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo on the wings, and Karim Benzema at striker.
Los Blancos kicked off to a hostile Camp Nou crowd. In the second minute, Ronaldo created the first chance of the game as he dribbled past Abidal on the left-hand flank and delivered a cross into the box, but it was to no avail. Valdes hurt his shoulder while recovering the ball and there was fear that Barça would have to sub out their main man in goal, but he fought through the discomfort. It took a while for the game to settle in.
Messi made his first mark on the match in the fourth minute as he chased after a loose ball recovered by his Argentina national teammate Di Maria. Messi tousled him for possession and won the ball near the touchline. He evaded Xabi Alonso’s tackle with ease and made his way into the box, winning a corner for the home-side. Barça played the corner short, and the ball came back to Messi near the box’s edge. He sent an audacious chip into the top corner of the goal, and although Casillas could not reach it, the ball ricocheted off the post.
In the ninth minute, Messi received the ball in the middle of the park and found Iniesta at the end of his pass. The Spaniard made a quick move and sent a precise ball across the box to Xavi, his midfield compatriot. Xavi gathered possession and confidently chipped it over Casillas’ shoulder. 1-0.
In the 17th minute, Xavi sent a long ball across the pitch to a wide-open David Villa who dribbled his way into the box and sent a cross to Pedro, who had to tap the ball in. 2-0. It was a perfect start for Barcelona, who dominated possession and tearing apart Madrid’s stout defensive line.
Throughout the first half, Messi was a nightmare to defend. In his “false 9” role, he was free to roam all across the pitch and cause damage from anywhere. In the 21st minute, he sent a dangerous ball into Iniesta’s path, but Pepe intercepted it. Whether with his passing or dribbling, he could not be contained, and the Madrid defenders often had no choice but to foul him. Suffice to say, they did not go easy on the Argentine. The Catalans score remained at 2-0 at the half, but it was the second period where Messi and the team would truly strut their stuff.
The second half started with a bang. Messi picked the ball off a sloppy pass from Marcelo and worked his way across the opposition box. His shot was blocked, but Villa recovered it and had his shot blocked as well. Later in that play, Messi managed to score a goal, but it was understandably ruled out because of a foul.
Four minutes later in the 51st, Messi carried the ball inside from the right-hand side and sent a threading ball through three defenders to Xavi, but the legendary midfielder could not convert the chance.
The Argentine received the ball in the same area in the 54th minute and sent a similar incisive pass to Villa, who played off the defence’s shoulders. Villa slotted in the ball with composure and put Barcelona up 3-0 on the night. It was a brilliant piece of play by Messi, typically at the goalscoring end of such plays.
Only three minutes later, Barcelona dispossessed Diarra in the middle of the park and Messi ran amok. He was practically alone at the halfway line against a high-pressing Madrid backline and made a quick turn inside to ward off Khedira and Carvalho. Villa made a quick run behind Sergio Ramos, and Messi sent a killer ball in his path, threading Pepe and Ramos at a near-impossible angle. Villa finished the play with an impressive shot and Barça scored twice in three minutes with both goals assisted by Messi. History was in the making, and every Blaugrana fan and player erupted with cheers.
Barcelona play the final half-hour with composure and grace, passing the ball around Madrid’s defence and shutting down their attacks. Messi continued to be a thorn in their side as he was truly unstoppable. Substitute Jeffrén Suárez came on in the dying minutes of the match and scored the fifth goal in the rout, giving Barcelona their biggest-ever winning margin over Madrid.
Even though Messi did not have his name on the scoresheet, he was influential in every facet of the game, and this performance is one of his best ever, not just in league-play.
1. Barcelona vs Real Madrid, 2017; 3-2
Messi’s performance against Real Madrid in March of 2017 brought out something that fans have only seen on a few occasions. The six-time Ballon d’Or fought through hell and showed the world that no matter what you do to stop him, he can not be contained. The match had everything a fan could ask for: stunning goals, plenty of controversies, and a nail-biting finish.
The Blaugrana came into the match sitting second in the table and three points behind Los Blancos. It was a tumultuous season for Barcelona, and they had just been eliminated in the Champions League quarter-finals by Juventus, losing 3-0 in April of 2017. Madrid were at an all-time high following their midweek defeat of Bayern Munich and had their eyes on winning the domestic league well.
Neymar was suspended for the match, so Barça lost a bit of their edge, but Messi would ensure otherwise. The Catalans lined up with Ter Stegen in goal; Sergi Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, and Jordi Alba in defence, Busquets, Iniesta and Rakitic in midfield; and Messi, Luis Suárez, and Paco Alcácer in the attack. Real Madrid started Keylor Navas in goal, Dani Carvajal, Sergio Ramos, Nacho, and Marcelo in defence; Casemiro, Luka Modric, and Toni Kroos in midfield; and Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and Ronaldo in the attack.
A victory would put Barça on top of the table, although Madrid would have a game in hand. Nevertheless, getting a result was always going to be tough in a hostile environment like the Santiago Bernabeu.
The match started with immediate entertainment. Ronaldo went down in the box in the second minute following a challenge from Samuel Umtiti, but no penalty was awarded. Messi dribbles past Casemiro with a stunning yet simple move in the eleventh minute, but the Brazilian takes him down with a dangerous tackle, getting him booked in the process.
In the 20th minute, Messi catches Marcelo’s loose elbow to the face and is forced to spend a few minutes on the sideline to monitor the bleeding. He’s given gauze and returns to the game, only for Madrid to score a few minutes later as Casemiro meets the end of a cross.
Messi, playing with a blood-soaked gauze, runs into the edge of the box and receives a ball from Rakitic. His first touch eludes Modric and his second brings Nacho to the ground. He’s one-on-one with Keylor Navas and calmly slots the ball into the bottom left corner. It was his first goal in six Clásicos and it put him one goal ahead of the all-time leading scorer in the fixture. 1-1.
Right before the half-time whistle, Casemiro bodies Messi at the halfway line, an offence that could have gotten him sent off. It was indicative of what Messi would endure all game long.
The home side, Madrid started the second half with a myriad of chances that Barcelona were lucky not to concede. The away side countered that with chances of their own, but both goalkeepers were on world-class form.
The score remained level until the 71st minute when Ivan Rakitic scored a goal that only justified his nickname, “Roketic.” Messi was dispossessed in the box, and the ball fell to the Croatian midfielder who faked a shot with his right foot and fired a cannon of a shot into the back of the net.
Five minutes later, Messi started a counter-attack, but Sergio Ramos made a two-footed tackle that could have potentially broken the Argentine’s leg. Luckily, Messi avoided most of the contact, but he was still sent to the ground. As a result, Ramos received a red card.
In the 84th minute, Marcelo sends a ball into the box and substitute James Rodriguez parries it past ter Stegen. The Bernabeu erupts in cheers as Madrid look set to remain atop of the table.
It’s the 91st minute, and there are less than 30 seconds left on the clock. All hope looks lost for Barcelona. Even though they will walk away with one point, it feels like a defeat. Pique, Busquets and Roberto form a triangle of passes and the latter makes a good first touch into space.
Roberto somehow makes his way past three Madrid players into the opposition third, and Barça have a last-ditch counter-attack. He finds Andre Gomes on the wing who passes the ball down the line to a marauding Jordi Alba. As the commentators say, “it’s one final roll of the dice, and can Barcelona hit the jackpot?” Alba tees the ball into the penalty area, but it looks like the Madrid defenders will reach it. Messi makes his way across the box. He has his eyes on the bottom left corner. In one stride, he caresses the ball past Navas’ outstretched fingertips. Game. Set. Match.
Messi celebrates with his teammates, and once they dissipate, he takes off his jersey. With a black-eye and blood across his face, he stands in front of the Madrid supporters and holds his jersey in the air. An iconic celebration for an iconic player.
Against all odds, Messi finds the back of the net and carries Barça out of troubled waters once again. In a (literal) bloody affair, the Argentine comes out on top. His performance was like something out of a movie, with the talisman constantly beaten down but never refusing to give up. It was a testament to not only his abilities as a player but also his fortitude and ability to fight through adversity.
Isolating three of Messi’s greatest performances in La Liga was no easy task, but you can’t go wrong with any combination of games. All three of these picks just happened to come against Real Madrid, and it just comes to show how Messi steps up whenever the team needs him most.
Each of these matches tells a different story and presents Messi in a different light. The first game showed Messi at his clinical best, scoring three goals against Madrid at only 19 years old. The second game presented him as a creator and how much damage he can do without scoring a goal.
The third game revealed a different side of him, the one that fights through the turmoil of being pushed around and harshly tackled all game long, and still has enough strength to find a way to come out on top.
He is the king in all facets of the game, and long may he reign.
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