"When the hour strikes Messi o’clock there is no sensible form of virtualisation, no tactical prep that can lessen his impact. You are simply an extra in his game, a prop, another zombie in his shoot-em-up. Even when you take away his space, push him to the fringes for 80 minutes, make him look a shadow of his true universe-boss self; he still somehow ends up winning the day."
That's how The Guardian summed up Lionel Messi's performance at Old Trafford on Wednesday. In England they're certain on one thing: the Champions League tie between Barcelona and Manchester United depends on the No.10. It is the same story at Barça, especially since Messi said the Champions League was the one the players want this season.
The injury of losing to Roma last season at the quarterfinal stage has still not healed. In the Eternal City, one year ago, Barça suffered a defeat which they cannot forget.
But the game against United (21.00 horas/Movistar+ and Movistar Liga de Campeones) on Tuesday presents another chance to turn the page. To get over the quarterfinal barrier four seasons later. To leave behind three disappointments in the club's history: the loss to Atletico at the Calderon in 2016, the painful elimination at the hands of Juventus in 2017 and the devastation of the Olimpico last April. Now is the moment and Messi knows it -- he's not scored at this stage since 2013.
"That just means he's closer to scoring now," coach Ernesto Valverde said on Monday. "The statistics don't tell you what will happen tomorrow. There's no fear, just tremendous excitement to get through."
Fortress Camp Nou
The numbers only increase the optimisim for Barca. And not just the 0-1 win in the first leg. Of the last 30 European games played at Camp Nou, they have won 27 and drawn three. Not a single defeat since 2013.
But United don't stop, a team "with a special spirit," as pointed out by Valverde. A United with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in charge, the miracle man. In England they're remembering that it's 20 years since he scored the legendary stoppage time goal at Camp Nou to win the Champions League against Bayern Munich. That never-say-die attitude was also on display at PSG in the last round, when Marcus Rashford won the tie with a stoppage time penalty.
"In sport you get what you deserve," Solskjaer said. "If you give your life to the game, football will return in kind. We can't trust destiny."
Ousmane Dembele's recovery from a hamstring injury -- he played an hour at Huesca -- gives Valverde a 'blessed' problem. Dembele or Philippe Coutinho? The Brazilian is no long untouchable and the Frenchman's explosion this season could see him come into the team.
The other reasonable doubt it as right-back. Sergi Roberto or Nelson Semedo? Valverde's switched between the two and has faith in them both. Semedo played at Old Trafford but Roberto could return. There are no doubts elsewhere. The rotations at Huesca proved that. There's a slim chance Arturo Vidal could come in but he may have to settle for a place on the bench after playing 90 minutes on Saturday.