How Lionel Messi showed he is the most complete player ever: the guts, the glory, the goals

Alistair Tweedale
Messi was in the wars and the goals as Barcelona beat Real Madrid in Sunday's Clasico - Reuters

We have known about Lionel Messi's talents for a long time now, and yet he somehow manages to keep on doing it: once again, he has found a way to surprise us.

It probably shouldn't have been all that great a shock that Messi would pop up with another Clasico winner at the Santiago Bernabeu, a goal that took him to 500 Barcelona goals, but it was another complete performance that further cemented his position as the greatest player of all time.

Halfway to 1,000 goals and still just 29 years of age, Messi has every chance of scoring another 200 before his playing days are up, and having hit so many heights over the course of his glittering career already, it is hard to imagine there could still be new peaks for the Argentine. This win may not be enough to wrestle the title from Real Madrid's grasp this season, but this display will be remembered for a long, long time.

Before the game, Messi's recent record read zero goals in the last six Clasicos, and there was mounting talk of his displeasure at the Luis Enrique regime, which will end in May and has only produced two league titles, two Spanish Cup wins, one Champions League and a handful of other trophies in two-and-a-half seasons.

On the pitch there was no sign whatsoever of any discontent, right from the very start.

Messi dinks the ball over Casemiro's outstretched foot, and in an instant, is away Credit: rex features

11 minutes in, Messi received the ball, facing his own goal and inside his own half. In one fell swoop, he turned and dinked the ball over Casemiro's foot and was away, charging at goal.  Innocent possession was all of a sudden a serious attack. Casemiro took the easy way out, chopping Messi down and earning himself a yellow card.

Casemiro stops Messi in his tracks Credit: AFP

Not long after, he collided with Marcelo and blood flowed from his mouth as he lay on the Bernabeu turf. Coupled with the black eye he sustained landing on his face in the draw with Juventus, he was starting to look worse for wear.

This is how Messi got a black eye in the Champions League last week Credit: BT Sport
Messi lies on the turf with blood pouring from his mouth Credit: Rex Features

But it did not faze him. He played on and, still grasping the cotton wool with which he had attempted to stem the flow of blood from his mouth, he drew Barcelona level within five minutes of Real taking the lead, dancing between defenders before slotting coolly past Keylor Navas.

Messi played on with cotton wool stuffed in his mouth Credit: AFP
Messi equalises while holding the cotton wool in his left hand Credit: AP

Having almost drawn a second yellow for Casemiro towards the end of the first half, Messi set about winning the game. 

Sergio Ramos was sent off in the 77th minute, lunging in wildly as the Argentine broke with Barcelona 2-1 up and looking to kill the game off.

It was the sixth time Messi was fouled over the course of the 90 minutes, which was at least twice as many as any other player on the pitch. He also completed seven successful dribbles, which was four more than anyone else.

Ramos is sent off for a dangerous two-footed lunge at Messi Credit: AP

Given how often, how cynically and - in Ramos's case in particular - how dangerously Messi is fouled, it is credit to him that he keeps on drawing tackles and does not shy away. That said, he has had a hell of a lot of practice evading rash challenges.

A goal and a man up, and Barca, plagued by defensive problems this season (which are much of the reason that Enrique will be departing), still managed to concede. With five minutes to go James Rodriguez made it 2-2 to restore Real's three-point lead at the top of the table. Then Messi came into his own.

With 30 seconds of injury time remaining, Barcelona were in their own right-back position. Gerard Pique scooped the ball to Sergio Busquets, who found Sergio Roberto and suddenly they were away.

30 seconds remain, and Barcelona are stuck in their own right-back position Credit: Sky sports
17 seconds later and it's in the Real Madrid net Credit: Sky sports

He charged right through the heart of the Real team, and the ball, never leaving the floor (no, you don't always have to lump it up the pitch when chasing the game) and going via Andre Gomes and Jordi Alba, found its way to Messi, arriving with perfect timing on the edge of the box. He slammed home and Barcelona won the match, joining Real on 75 points at the top of La Liga. The title race is on once again.

What a way it was to reach 500 goals for his club, in what was only his 577th appearance. It was his 103rd brace, to add to an astonishing 37 hat-tricks. Messi has inspired the era of the goal-a-game striker.

Messi has scored more goals at the Bernabeu than any other away ground Credit: AFP

What's more, these two goals took him to 14 at the Bernabeu, making Real Madrid's his favourite opposition ground. Messi does not shy away from the big occasions.

Messi holds his shirt up to celebrate his winner Credit: Reuters

Few others will ever match Messi's achievements, and the unyielding battle between himself and Cristiano Ronaldo for the Ballon d'Or and the crown for the greatest player of all time continues.

But declarations of Messi as the best have been more frequent, and this one was the icing on the cake.

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