By Brian Reiser/beIN SPORTS
The one inescapable fact when it comes to sports is that time eventually wins out. Even the greatest players age, lose a step and eventually fade away into retirement.
Heading into the 2018-2019 season, at the age of 31, many questioned whether Lionel Messi, the longtime superstar of FC Barcelona, might be on the verge of decline. Would this be the year Messi falls off?
The diminutive Argentine responded with a vintage Messi season. Messi scored 50 goals in 49 appearances across La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champion’s League. For one more year, Messi reigned at the top of the soccer world, longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid as well as Neymar and Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain included.
By now, it’s impossible not to take the way Lionel Messi scores for granted on some level. After all, the man makes the difficult look routine, making passes, taking shots and scoring goals that no other player would attempt. A season’s highlight clip of Messi eclipses most players’ career highlights.
Every once in a while, it’s nice to take a step back and appreciate the genius of Lionel Messi afresh.
In that spirit, here are the top seven Messi goals scored during the 2018-2019 season.
7) Barcelona vs. Valencia – February 2, 2019, La Liga
Has there ever been a deadlier weapon in soccer history than the left foot of Lionel Messi? Whenever the ball slides onto Messi’s left foot anywhere near the penalty area, defenses go on full alert and goalies begin to sweat. From hat tricks to stunning penalty kicks, Messi has demonstrated time and again that he’s able to do just about anything he likes with his magical left foot.
He proved that again in the February La Liga clash with Valencia, scoring a magnificent goal in the blink of an eye. Picking up an Arturo Vidal backheel pass just outside the penalty arc, Messi took a single touch then swung his left foot through the ball, curling it around three defenders and leaving the keeper flat footed as the ball nestled into the corner of the net.
Before the defenders were able to react, Messi had lined up his angle, taken an effortless touch to put the ball in place for a shot, and curved it perfectly into the right corner of the goal. Truly magnificent.
6) Barcelona vs. Sevilla – January 30, 2019, Copa del Rey
This next Messi goal may not look like much if you only watch the last touch. Messi taps the ball past the helpless keeper just outside the six-yard box. Just about anyone would have scored from there. But it’s the lead-up to the goal that makes it worthy of this list.
Messi starts the attacking play out just beyond midfield, spraying a curling pass just beyond the reach of a Sevilla defender onto the foot of Arturo Vidal on the outskirts of the penalty box. Vidal passes to Luis Suarez, who plays one touch give and go with Gerard Pique into the box before cutting a pass across the face of goal. Jordi Alba gives a lovely dummy, letting the ball run onto the foot of Messi, who has made a long run into the box where the ball is waiting for him to coolly slot it home for the goal.
This goal is as much a testament to Barcelona’s team brilliance as it is to Messi’s transcendent quality, but that’s the point. Messi is Barcelona, and Barcelona is never better than when Messi is pulling all the strings and creating lovely goals involving the whole squad.
5) Barcelona vs. Espanyol – March 30, 2019, La Liga
Lost when focusing on Messi’s immense natural talent is the amount of work he puts into his game. Messi isn’t capable anymore of the lung busting runs and weaving dribbling displays of his youth, at least not all the time.
But he’s managed to compensate for the loss of some of his athleticism with an increased mastery of the free kick, where he’s scoring more goals than ever. These days, some of the most breathtaking Messi goals come from dead ball situations.
Truthfully, any number of inch-perfect Messi goals coming from this season could have made this list. But why not go with the kind of free kick that only Messi would have the audacity to try and the talent to pull off?
Against Espanyol, Messi lined up a free kick just outside the box. Rather than try to curl it into the top corner or blast it under the leaping wall, Messi went for… a chip! Dinking the ball softly up the middle, Messi befuddled both the defenders and the goal keeper, floating the ball into the goal just beyond the outstretched arms of the diving keeper.
For all the powerfully curled free kicks you’ll see this year, there hasn’t been anything like this goal from Messi, the finest free kick taker all across international football today.
4) Barcelona vs. Huesca – September 2, 2018, La Liga
Through the 14 years and counting of Messi’s professional career, there’s been one constant – his ability to make defenders look foolish with his incomparable dribbling skills. The ball seems to stick to Messi’s foot even as he runs at full sprint, eluding would-be tacklers with the slightest of movements. Many Messi goals come at the expense of a defender’s pride.
Probably the most iconic image of Messi’s devastating dribbling was his destruction of Jerome Boateng in the Champion’s League semis in 2015. This year, he did a pretty decent imitation of that feat against Huesca during the La Liga competition.
Standing in for Boateng was Huesca left back Luisinho, who had the misfortune to be matched up with Messi just outside the box. With a laser-quick cut onto his right foot, Messi tumbled the hapless defender onto the turf and raced toward the six-yard box before rifling a shot just inside the side netting for a goal.
Luisinho learned what countless defenders already know – Messi has the ability to make you look foolish in the span of a second.
3) Sevilla vs. Barcelona – February 23, 2019, La Liga
The iconic Messi goals are ones where control is the main ingredient. He’s not known for overhead kicks, towering headers or other splashy acrobatics. Messi plays with the ball on the ground, scoring his goals with subtlety and precision.
That doesn’t mean he lacks other tools in his box, though, as he demonstrated against Sevilla in La Liga this winter. In the 26th minute of the match, Ivan Rakitic floated a cross into the middle of the penalty area, where Messi waited. Meeting the ball in mid-air, Messi volleyed a thunderous strike into the top corner for one of the finer goals of the La Liga season.
In a sense, it wasn’t what we’re used to seeing from Messi. But the brilliance of the goal was on a level we’ve come to expect from the Argentine wizard.
2) Barcelona vs. Liverpool – May 1, 2019, Champions League
The second spot on the list goes to another free kick, this one on one of the biggest stages imaginable. Barcelona hosted Liverpool in the first leg of their Champion’s League semifinal fixture, and Barcelona already scored two goals to lead 2-0 in the 77th minute when Messi stood over a free kick about 35 yards from goal.
Between the posts stood Alisson, one of the finest goal keepers in the world, at the top of his form. From 35 yards out and with Alisson keeping goal, only a world-class effort could possibly find the net.
Messi produced that moment of unbelievable world-class soccer, curling his free kick just around the leaping Liverpool wall and into the top right corner of the goal. Alisson dove, stretching to cover all but the narrowest of gaps. But Messi’s placement was inch perfect, and the Brazilian keeper was only able to helplessly watch the ball ripple the net to make the score 3-0 in Barcelona’s favor.
Liverpool went on to snatch the fixture 4-3 on aggregate in the second leg, but the finest individual moment in the two games belonged to Lionel Messi’s extraordinary free kick.
We are not worthy 🙇♂️— Bleacher Report Live (@brlive) May 1, 2019
Messi scores his 600th for Barcelona and it's a beauty 🙌 pic.twitter.com/utF9yNgASV
1) Real Betis vs. Barcelona – March 17, 2019, La Liga
Part of the genius of Lionel Messi is his imagination. Messi is simply able to conceive of angles, runs, passes and shots that other players never imagine. Forget about execution – most players never even see the possibilities that Messi turns into reality. Messi goals are often simply beyond the minds of lesser mortals.
His goal versus Real Betis in La Liga this March is an example of this genius at work. Rakitic cut a pass back just inside the penalty area to the right of the circle. Messi ran onto the ball and hit a one time floating chip that traveled 15 yards and scraped just under the bar over the outstretched hands of the keeper for an inconceivable goal.
It’s almost impossible to put into words how difficult a technique it took to place the ball with such touch and precision. But it’s even harder to understand how Messi was able to view the situation and come up with such an idea.
Maybe the perfect summation of this goal is in the reactions of the other players on the pitch. Barcelona players have their hands on their heads in disbelief. Betis’ keeper can be seen to mouth ‘wow’.
And maybe that’s all you can say when it comes to Lionel Messi goals. Wow. We’re lucky to be able to watch him ply his trade at this level for however many more years he can keep it up.
Lots more Messi content can be found right here.