Messi steals Champions League’s thunder | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 26, 2021 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:39 AM, February 26, 2021

Messi steals Champions League’s thunder

On the same night that Manchester City were extending their historic run to 19 consecutive wins with a 2-0 triumph over Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League round of 16 and Real Madrid recorded one of the dullest 1-0 wins against 10-man Atalanta, Lionel Messi was lighting up the Camp Nou, albeit on a much lesser stage, with a pair of goals as Barcelona stormed to a 3-0 win over Elche in La Liga.

Pep Guardiola's suddenly imperious side had Messi in their sights immediately after he had expressed his desire to leave Barcelona last summer following a humiliating exit from the Champions League and a breakdown in his relationship with club president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Ultimately, the 33-year-old decided to stay -- for the final year of his contract at least.

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His decision was made in part by exterior factors, with the pandemic denting club's finances and the legality of his exit clause being questioned.  Internally, he was frustrated by the direction of the club and the quality of players that surrounded him.

Yesterday, for much of the first half, Barcelona again lacked that intangible spark. They had just two shots on target, both from Francisco Trincao, their lowest tally in the first 45 minutes of a home game this season in all competitions.

But Koeman's team turned it around in the second half, Messi linking up in sublime fashion with Martin Brathwaite before scoring three minutes into the second half. 15 minutes later, Frenkie de Jong found Messi in the box after a slaloming run and the Argentine doubled the lead by easing the ball home following a series of feints that left the Elche defence scrambling.

His 13th goal took Messi go ahead of Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski as the top scorer across Europe's top five leagues in 2021 in all competitions, but the talisman knows there is plenty of work ahead.

Chiefly, the Blaugrana can hope to bridge a five-point gap in the league with leaders Atletico Madrid, but the desire for another remontada against PSG will also be burning. After all, neither Barcelona nor Messi can risk another Champions League humiliation and a 4-1 defeat at home has left them staring down the barrel.

Any encouraging signs will have to come from their captain and in that regard, Messi's timing could not have been better. On a night when the Champions League offered fans nothing, Messi reminded them of his capabilities with a display that was every bit as emphatic as it was brilliant.

Barcelona will be hoping that he can hold on to that form and, if he does, there is every reason to believe that the air at the Parc des Princes will have a very different vibe about it come March 11.

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