Lionel Messi. The man who defies all rules associated with footballing science.
The Argentine wizard is arguably football’s greatest ever gift. He has blessed the Champions League with his magic season upon season, and chances are that he could invent an entirely new language with his feet alone if he tried.
Europe’s elite competition and the industry’s greatest player have made for a fine duo to watch and enjoy. It’s supremely difficult to knuckle things down to just 30 performances, but 90min has had a crack.
Decked out in that baggy turquoise away shirt, Messi was straight into gear for the Champions League knockout stages in 2011/12.
Having played a key role in the groups, Messi kept the heat up in the last 16 first leg with a goal and an assist to put Barcelona in the driving seat.
The group stages are essentially Messi’s playground, and he put that playground to full use against FC Copenhagen in 2010/11.
A 2-0 scoreline at Camp Nou was a fair one for the visitors, with only Messi’s genius being the difference. His brace, though, demonstrated just how significant that difference is between himself and the rest of football.
Before toying around with Copenhagen, Messi kicked off Barcelona‘s Champions League campaign that season in white hot form.
He bagged twice and assisted another two as his side ran riot in a 5-1 victory over Panathinaikos. Training ground stuff for the Argentine.
With the Scottish side on a run of three successive home wins in the competition, going 2-1 up against Barcelona was the dream for Celtic in the last 16.
But if Messi’s dinked equaliser to make it 1-1 wasn’t a warning, then his 79th minute winner to turn the game on its head and send Barcelona into the second leg with away goals galore would’ve seriously stung. Inevitable class from the youngster shining on the big stage.
An earlier and more muted showing, Messi turned provider in 2012 with two assists as Barcelona stormed past Benfica in the group stages.
Clearly bored of scoring, Messi instead danced his way around defenders for 90 minutes with endless running with the ball and put it on a plate for Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas to steal the headlines.
Good starts are key, and again it was Messi who ensured one for La Blaugrana in the 2007/08 season.
Trying to stand out among the likes of Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho is tough for most, except when your name is Lionel Messi. A goal and an assist for the Argentine got Barça over the line.
Doing it in the earlier rounds is all fun and games, but it’s those performances when it matters most that count for more.
Messi was key in a controversial draw at Stamford Bridge in the 2009 Champions League final and laid the ball into Andres Iniesta for a sensational goal that would send them into the final. The game is remembered for Didier Drogba’s outburst, which makes rewatching Messi’s subtle brilliance even better.
Despite the club being in turmoil and his future genuinely being in doubt for the first time in years, Messi was still the man to rely on in 2020 for Barcelona.
A goal and an assist dragged Barça to a 2-0 win at an empty Allianz Stadium. Considering he barely wanted to be at the club just months before these kinds of performances, it’s seriously impressive. But not at all surprising.
Preying on a weakened and shaky Borussia Dortmund, Messi smelt blood and was in full stride for this one.
Sitting between the lines, the Argentine picked off loose ball after loose ball and continued to recycle them into chances, mazing runs and goal contributions. Vintage Messi.
The eccentric and pantomime villain nature of Luis Suarez, paired up with the subtle genius and endless composure of Messi has made for serious box office football.
That subtlety was lost briefly in a 5-1 thrashing, however, when the first of his two goals was a dinked penalty to send Lyon’s goalkeeper packing. See yer.
Having only struggled to a draw in the first leg of the last 16 in 2009/10, Barcelona bounced back in style for the second.
As did Messi in particular, turning up the volume and bagging a brace in a 4-0 win to ensure smooth passage into the quarter final, one goal of which was a textbook curled effort from 20 yards.
Tantalisingly close to reaching the 200 goal mark for Barça, Messi couldn’t wait much longer to get over the line and got the job done in one evening.
Away from home, the Argentine put together an effortless hat-trick to confirm passage into the knockout stages and achieve the monumental personal feat.
Another instance of kicking off a European campaign in style, it doesn’t get much better than a hat-trick in front of a full Camp Nou.
The 48th of his career, this man loves scoring goals in bundles. The first of three was particularly special too, floating home a free kick with his trademark technique and making it look endlessly easy.
Having completed a fine comeback victory against Juventus to make the 2018/19 quarter final, Manchester United fell victim to the inevitable.
Having fought to a tough 1-0 win at Old Trafford, Messi found comfort in the home tie and gave fans flashbacks of the late 2000s with a brace against the Red Devils to dump them out of the competition.
A tie dominated by that dramatic second leg comeback at Anfield, Messi’s first leg antics go underappreciated as a result. Truthfully, he had Liverpool on strings.
Having dumped United out with a brace in the last eight, he looked set to do the same to Liverpool in the semi-final with another Camp Nou double. The result didn’t go Barça’s way, but Messi was still electric.
He doesn’t like English clubs very much, does he?
A year earlier, it was Chelsea who felt the wrath of Messi on a visit to Camp Nou. Three goals and an assist over a two-legged last 16 bout, with Messi – as usual – kicking it up a notch at home.
That burst into life in the second leg at Camp Nou – which saw him achieve a feat of 100 Champions League goals – couldn’t have happened without the first leg.
Chelsea had pulled ahead at Stamford Bridge, but it was Messi who finished off a square ball and leveled the game with an away goal to take back to Barcelona. Vital.
No matter how hard that horizontally striped shirt tried to make things feel so wrong, Messi running riot in the Gazprom just feels so right.
MSN was in full stride and ran Roma completely ragged. Suarez bagged a mean volley, but it was Messi’s sheer genius that stole the show, finishing off a 27 pass move and coming away with a brace. Standard night at the office.
Still seeking revenge from that one time Celtic beat them in 2012 despite barely touching the ball, Barça stuck it to the Scots properly in 2016.
It took Messi just four minutes to get himself on the scoresheet for his first of three, with him and Neymar terrorising Celtic with their majestic footwork and blinding, matching bleached hair. Champions of Europe? No. WWE tag champions? Worthy of it.
Don’t think he’d forgotten about you, Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s return to Camp Nou was rather familiar – too familiar for his liking – as Messi danced around the opposition and created a work of art on the pitch as he so often did under Guardiola in years previous. He made City look like statues as he observed and picked them off one by one, bagging a hat-trick. Again.
Oh look, another hat-trick. Just showing off at this point, isn’t he? Selfish.
And of course that hat-trick just had to include another one of his ferociously whipped yet equally graceful free-kicks. Just bore off mate, we know you’re good at football. Ajax didn’t deserve it.
After being shocked at the Emirates by a winner from Andrey Arshavin (really), Barcelona pressed the on button and turned around the last 16 tie in 2010/11 at Camp Nou.
The ‘on’ button is a secret Messi button, with the Argentine coming to life and dancing around the Gunners to a brace, helping his side to a comeback victory while making Arsenal look very Arsenal. That’s all he’s here for, really.
Having denied fans of the same Champions League final two years in a row, Barcelona went one better and stopped arguably the greatest United side ever from becoming back-to-back European champions.
Barcelona were unplayable, as was Messi, hidden within a team of stars at their peak. He sealed the win with Barça’s second, somehow diving backwards to meet a cross and head the ball beyond Edwin van der Sar.
Messi’s brace was the beginning of a historic last 16 comeback for Barcelona in 2012/13.
Striking twice in the first half, Messi’s dominant display inspired his side onto a 4-0 win, equalling Milan’s heaviest loss in the competition and making La Blaugrana the first side ever to come back from a two-goal first-leg defeat without the benefit of an away goal.
Now we’re in prime Gazprom territory. And more importantly, serious Messi not being human territory.
As Barcelona edged beyond an equally as star-studded Real Madrid to make the 2011 Champions League final, Messi stole the show with a scintillating solo goal that is still enough to leave you speechless today. Picking the ball up near halfway, Messi weaved through Real before poking it beyond Iker Casillas. Simply magnificent.
A convincing 3-1 victory in the away leg? Not enough. Seven more goals should do the trick.
Messi scored five of those seven goals, becoming the first player to bag five in one Champions League game and putting himself within seven goals of Barcelona’s record scorer at the time. He was 24 at the time. Twenty four.
Before the pain of the game that Barcelona fans collectively agree to no longer discuss, La Blaugrana had Bayern Munich’s number more than once.
They showed it in 2009 when, in full Pep Guardiola stride, Messi combined with Samuel Eto’o to tear Bayern’s defence apart and reduce them to dust with a brace and an assist. Aged 21, by the way. This man knows no bounds.
Despite the best efforts of the god himself Nicklas Bendtner who opened the scoring at Camp Nou, Arsenal couldn’t escape the inevitable.
For Messi, that inevitable was a four goal haul in hunt of back-to-back Champions Leagues. And while they didn’t do that, it didn’t stop the Argentine from running wild on their way to the semi-final, with three of his four coming inside 45 minutes.
Having survived the majority of the first leg scare free, Bayern looked set to take a 0-0 to the Allianz in the 2015 semi-final.
That was until Messi’s brilliance broke the deadlock after 77 minutes and added another three minutes later to completely derail the Germans. Add a late Neymar third into the mix and suddenly La Blaugrana were all but in the final, on course for a second ever treble. Jerome Boateng is still awaiting compensation for new ankles.
Two years on from a humbling and heartbreak at the hands of Messi and Barcelona, Manchester United had reached the summit again.
And Messi denied them again. This time in even more ruthless fashion, making Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic look as good as done on the grandest stage of them all, with a man of the match performance and some simply unimaginable footwork steering Barcelona to victory yet again.