As the UEFA Champions League season kicked off, Barcelona were unbeaten in the La Liga, winning all four of their opening games, but ahead of PSV’s visit in the first game of the new Champions League season, Valverde knew that they would have to be at their best to get a favorable result.
The two teams had faced each other six times before, with Barca winning two games and 3 of those encounters ending in a draw, while PSV had a solitary win. Both teams had won the last five matches in the build-up to this game and Barcelona were in no position to underestimate the Dutch Champions.
Valverde opted for a strong lineup, with Ter Stegen in goal and the first choice back four of Sergio Roberto, Pique, Umtiti, and Alba. In the midfield, Coutinho and Busquets were reinstated alongside Rakitic and up ahead; it was the same front three of Messi, Suarez, and Dembele.
After a subdued performance in the weekend from the world’s greatest player, the entire world was looking for a reaction from Lionel Messi, and as is always the case, Messi did not disappoint, creating a moment of history on the night.
PSV looked stronger at the start of the game and also had the first attempt, which was off target. However, Messi and Coutinho soon started orchestrating proceedings. Yet, the goal stayed elusive, while on the other side of the field, PSV came very close to scoring.
However, Messi and Coutinho continued to strive, to combine and the magician almost set up the Brazilian with a classy through ball, only for Coutinho to hit the side netting. It would seem like Barcelona encounter a night of frustrations, but the first moment of magic was about to come.
It all started with Viergever fouling Dembele just outside the box and up stepped Lionel Messi. He was made to wait for eternity to take the shot, yet no amount of stalling could alter the inevitable.
With 31 minutes on the clock and the whole world watching in anticipation, Messi lifted the ball perfectly above the wall and into the top corner – Zoet, the PSV goalkeeper, was never getting to that. 1-0 to Barcelona and a million smiles to the world. It was nothing short of a work of art, but Messi is not just a footballer, he is a painter, an artist, and he started the night with a masterpiece.
The first half ended with the score at 1-0 but in the second half, PSV continued to threaten, and it looked like Barcelona would require more than just a goal to win the game. It was time for Dembele to show some smooth footwork and curl one past Zoet in the 77th minute. The maestro congratulated the apprentice, but he was far from finished himself.
Three minutes later, it was time for some more Messi magic again. Anticipating Rakitic’s ball, Messi ran past his markers into the box and hit the lofted pass first time into the far corner – Zoet just appeared to shrug in defeat.
An exquisite piece of skill and an even better finish, it was how easy he made it look that won the world over. It was as if he had guided the ball, first time, through an imaginary path unknown to the world in between the blade of glasses, to the far corner of the goal. Messi had kicked off the new Champions League season with a bang and Barcelona were soaring high, sure of three points.
However, within 2 minutes, the mood had somewhat dampened at the Nou Camp. Umtiti had picked up his second yellow card of the night and had received his marching orders. There were at least 13 more minutes to play, and concerns could be felt all around the stadium.
Perhaps Messi felt the concerns too and watched as Valverde tried to counter by making defensive substitutions. The Barcelona coach should not have been too worried, because in the 87th minute, Lionel Messi embarked on a fascinating diagonal run, latched on to Suarez’s through ball and sent the ball past a helpless Zoet, completing his hattrick in style and sending a message out to the whole world that he was ready for another record-breaking season ahead.
The game ended Barcelona 4-0 PSV Eindhoven and with his 8th hattrick in the Champions League – the highest by a player in the history of the tournament – Messi made a new tournament record. He also created history by becoming the first player to score 63 goals in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League and proved once again that he is arguably the G.O.A.T.