Real Madrid and Ronaldo may have swept before them in 2017 but come the New Year Messi and Barcelona will be in charge.
There’s a meme doing the rounds that you might have seen about how to start off your New Year right. Start playing a certain song at a certain time, for example, and the crucial part will kick in at the stroke of midnight.
Well, if you start watching Barcelona’s Clasico victory over Real Madrid at precisely 22:47 and 41 seconds on New Year’s Eve, as the clock strikes midnight you’ll see something very special.
Lionel Messi’s through-ball for Luis Suarez in the build-up to Barcelona’s second goal was otherworldly and, maybe, a little underappreciated given the melee that got sparked seconds afterwards.
Dani Carvajal was given a straight red card for a deliberate handball and most of the subsequent replays didn’t stretch back to the first, killer pass. But do yourself a favour: find it, look at it and admire it.
If you cherish the rarity of Messi’s talent, is no better way to kick off the festivities.
So, go ahead, start off your New Year right. Relive one of the best moments from one of the best individual performances of the year. Ring in 2018 with an example of the power of the man who is undoubtedly the best in the world.
Any newcomer to the sport and basing their knowledge solely on what they saw at the Clasico would be baffled if you asked them which player is better – Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
“The guy with the air kick?” they might ask. It would not appear to be a serious question.
It is hard to quantify just how far apart Real Madrid’s No.7 and Barcelona’s No. 10 were on the day. One statistical website rated Messi’s performance as a perfect 10.0.
In the run-up to the first goal, observers wondered how the Madrid midfield could have become quite so open while Ivan Rakitic wandered through it. It was because Mateo Kovacic was marking Messi closely and was scared to death of letting him out of his sight for the split second it would take to intercept his fellow Croatian. That’s the scale of the Argentine’s threat.
And so the diminutive genius drew the curtain down on a 2017 in which his rival Ronaldo bagged all the trophies, the highlights and nearly as many goals with a display that delivered a juddering reminder of his potency.
Indeed, Messi broke record after record with his latest masterclass in Madrid.
Nine – he created a record number of chances in any La Liga game this season. This is a Clasico away from home remember and not a stroll in the sun against one of Spain’s lesser lights.
15 – he has scored more goals at Santiago Bernabeu in Clasicos than any other player in history. More than Raul, Ronaldo, Di Stefano, you name it. There is talk around Madrid of renaming the stadium but it belongs to Messi now.
15 – he is now the only player to have scored 15 + goals in 10 seasons.
17 – he has now scored more league goals against Real Madrid than any other player.
54 – he has scored more goals in this calendar year than any other player.
200 – he supplied Aleix Vidal with the 200th assist of his Barcelona career – with one boot on, after Marcelo had mauled his right one off.
There are probably more records to come but maybe they haven’t got round to counting them all up yet.
If anyone watched the game and concluded that Messi scored a penalty and that’s all, well, they wouldn’t have been paying particularly close attention.
The urgency of that pass to Suarez, for example, and the accuracy with which it was given appeared laser-guided.
The only thing keeping Ronaldo in the same conversation as Messi currently are the number of goals he scores. In all round play, it is not even close.
Ronaldo’s time might come round again in the spring and shut us all up. He’s made a habit of that, with Madrid hyper-successful since Zinedine Zidane took over.
The rate at which they’ve claimed trophies has given legitimacy to the claims that Ronaldo belongs in Messi’s company. He is Madrid’s biggest asset and events like his consecutive hat-tricks en route to his fourth Champions League title will never be forgotten.
And the sight of Ronaldo on a stage somewhere with a new individual trophy of some sort this year has perhaps made Messi recede from the consciousness for those not watching him each and every week.
It’s hard – even when you’re Messi – to top lists and polls when your team’s not winning. Ronaldo is and for that he gets his prominence.
There was talk before this game about the possibility of Barca providing a guard of honour to Real in recognition for their five titles across the year. It was a non-starter.
More appropriate, however, would be the sight of the other 20 players on the field at the final whistle clapping Messi off. He was that good.
2017’s spoils went to Ronaldo and Madrid. Now though, despite his Ballon d’Or and Madrid’s five titles, it appears their run is at an end. Barcelona are top of the league and stacking up the victories, with Messi imperious and in the form of his life.
There may not be a Chinese Year of the Goat due until 2027 but Messi showed on Saturday that next year could very well be the Year of the GOAT.
And he’ll start off his year right, no doubt about that.