It was a breathtaking cameo. Lionel Messi returned to his favorite stage and lit up big screens around the world following two months on the sidelines as he delivered a virtuoso performance in what was only supposed to be a supporting role.
As usual, it was action packed. Messi hit a free kick into the wall, almost assisted Pedro with a clever cross, curled an exquisite effort into the side netting, dispatched a typically clinical finish with the seconds ticking away and added a stunning second (Barca's fourth) in injury time. All of that in just over 26 minutes.
It was a fantastic finale. "Messi's career is a cinema script," Barca boss Gerardo Martino said afterwards. "What happened tonight was just a sequence of his time here."
In the lead-up to this game, Martino had spoken of Messi's determination to return. "He has the stare of a killer," Tata told the media. And Getafe fell victim to that assassin's glare, which quickly gave way to a schoolboy smile. Focused but feliz, the Argentine was happy to be back - and Barca was happy to have him back.
Messi's remarkable return
|2||Two of Messi's four attempts ended up in the back of the net.|
|4||He now has four Copa goals against Getafe, including the memorable Maradona-esque effort in 2007.|
|16||Leo's double saw him take his tally for the season to 16 and overtake Pedro as Barca's top scorer.|
|26||The 26-year-old showed no signs of discomfort and netted twice in 26 minutes against Getafe.|
|59||Messi's appearance on Wednesday was his first for 59 days after Barca gave him time to fully recover.|
"Just when you think he might not be in his best shape, coming back from an injury, he does that - in two minutes," Martino enthused after the South American's strikes had arrived in quick succession. "But we could tell from training that he was looking good. Messi reappeared tonight and we are all pleased."
The timing is impeccable. Messi's return represents a big boost for Barcelona ahead of what may well be the Catalans' toughest test of the season so far: the trip to Atletico Madrid in La Liga on Saturday.
The Argentine's comeback also coincides with the lead-up to the Ballon d'Or on Monday, an award for which he is shortlisted and is seeking to win for a fifth successive year.
That honor looks likely to go to Cristiano Ronaldo instead after the Portuguese starred last year as Leo was laid low by injuries for much of 2013. Had he remained healthy, however, the Argentine would probably be favorite to retain the prize.
After all, on sheer talent alone, Messi remains arguably the best there is. "The Ballon d’Or has been moved to a different playing field," Barca defender Dani Alves told Goal in a recent interview. "It has moved to the field of opinions and off the field of play. But if we look at the field of play, I think Leo, for as long as he is around, will push the rest into second place."
Whether he wins or not this time around, Messi's majestic comeback represents a stunning reminder of his supreme skills ahead of the award for the world's finest footballer in 2013.
Before that, though, comes the trip to Atletico on Saturday night and Barca will be buoyed not only by hitting eight goals without reply in its superb start to 2014, but by the timely return of the team's astonishing Argentine.
|Messi's career is a cinema script. What happened tonight was just a sequence of his time here.
- Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino
"I don't know if he'll be ready to play," captain Carles Puyol said after the game on Wednesday. "He will have to keep on training and the boss will decide.
"It was a long time out for him with injury, but he hasn't forgotten how to play. He has trained well and it showed. That's what top players do."
So while he hasn't returned in time to alter the winner of the Ballon d'Or, with voting already closed, Messi is back and seemingly in tip-top condition at a crucial point of the season in which he can help to propel Barca to the biggest titles on offer. And that, as the Catalan club signed off on its prized performer to recover fully during November and December in Argentina, was exactly what Barcelona had hoped for.
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