“If Messi had been wearing an Atlético shirt, we would have won,” Diego Simone blurted out at the post match interview making reference to the single subject matter that defined his loosing side, Atletico Madrid, from the winning side, Barcelona, in a game that was tagged the league decider.
And the Atletico boss wasn’t just wishing or trying to level an unjustifiable excuse for his team loss, he was stating a plain fact. 26 minutes into the game, Barça were awarded a free-kick 25 yards away from Jan Oblak’s goal, this shouldn’t be a concern normally but these aren’t normal times.
It’s Lionel Messi standing behind the ball, running up to take this particular free-kick; the little magician who’d scored a free-kick in each of the two games prior to this. He sank his ball-enthralling left foot into the ball and it sailed beautifully high above the leaping wall of players and curly wide beyond the sprawled left-hand of Oblak and nestled into the top corner leaving the Slovenian stalwart with the feeling that he could’ve done better.
That’s the kind of feeling Messi gives everyone. Just like when he somehow wiggled free from three congealed Atleti players in the first half of this particular game. “There’s no one like him in the world. I don’t know what would have happened [if he’d been on the other team], nor do I want to imagine it” Barcelona Coach Ernesto Valverde cooed and also butressed the claim forward by Simeone.
Atlectico had entered this game off the back of an impeccable February and an unbeatable streak since the turn of the year. They’ve been plundering goals left, right and centre with little regards for the venue of the games. Diego Costa is breathing a new life alongside a terrific Antoine Griezmann and have chiselled down the gap between them and Blaugrana to a previous perceived impossible 5 points and rekindled a title challenge but on a day that they could have fanned the ember of the challenge into a smouldering fire, a certain little world wonder blew dead their rising hope.
This beautiful free-kick wasn’t a one off. It was Messi’s third this week alone, having curled two in against Girona and Las Palmas. It was his 6th in La Liga this season. Both feats are records in their own right. He propelled Barcelona 8 points clear at the top with 10 games to go.
On a day when Atletico could have made a reverberating statement across the league, a diminutive world beater was stirred awake and just a single moment of brilliance was enough to separate the boys from the men.
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