While that other superstar departed La Liga, Messi has been as great as usual for Barcelona


Lionel Messi is still, incredibly quietly, the best player on the planet and, probably, the greatest player of all time.

Barcelona to win the Champions League always seems like a smart bet at the start of a campaign, but the current run for Messi with Barcelona is greater than simply winning 4-0 on Tuesday night at Camp Nou.

For starters, Real Madrid hoarding Champions League trophies with Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo speaks for itself, but Barcelona was still clearly the best team in Spain last season, not Madrid.

In 2017-18, Barcelona only suffered one La Liga defeat — a late away stumble away to Levante where Messi didn’t travel since the league was already in the bag.”

The 36 league matches where the Argentine stepped on the pitch? Barcelona never lost.

In the Champions League, where Barcelona could not field Philippe Coutinho (who is worth mentioning as the third-most expensive transfer of all time), the Blaugrana only lost one match. It was a memorable and meaningful 3-0 defeat away in Rome that sent the Italians through on away goals.

Prior to the collapse at the Olimpico, Barcelona was undefeated in Europe. Tuesday’s start to the European campaign with Messi grabbing the hat trick against PSV signaled a continuation of form, more than a return to it when one takes the breadth of Barcelona’s recent play.

Real Madrid with Ronaldo dominated the Champions League, but Barcelona was the best team in Spain during the majority of Los Blacos’ European run — especially a season ago. After a crushing Super Cup defeat that seemingly spelled the end of an era at the Camp Nou, Messi stepped up to claim the European golden boot with 34 goals and 12 assists in 36 unbeaten La Liga matches.

In El Clasicos, Barcelona won 3-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu and drew 2-2 at Camp Nou.

Messi carried Barcelona to the domestic double, with the Catalan club only losing one match in the Copa del Rey, an ultimately meaningless away first leg 1-0 to Espanyol.

Barcelona only lost three matches last season across the three major competitions, and two of the defeats had no bearing on silverware. Everything considered, Barcelona was the most consistent side in Europe with the best player on the continent for the duration of the campaign.

No, this isn’t an argument to give Messi the Ballon d’Or over Real Madrid Luka Modric and his phenomenal season, but Messi is the supreme player on the planet currently. The 31-year-old’s record-breaking eighth Champions League hat trick on Tuesday only further reiterated the masterpieces this all-time great is regularly painting on grass pitches across Europe.

Cristiano Ronaldo has struggled a bit thus far with Juventus, but Messi has shined in his La Liga absence. (Getty)
Cristiano Ronaldo has struggled a bit thus far with Juventus, but Messi has shined in his La Liga absence. (Getty)

In all, Barcelona has outscored its opposition 20-4 over the first six matches of the season and looks better than ever, with Messi scoring seven goals and grabbing two assists already. Hyped youngster Ousmane Dembele looks confident and sharp following a World Cup victory with France, evidenced by his jaw-dropping goal against PSV. Coutinho’s availability to play in Europe doesn’t hurt, either.

Arrivals like Arturo Vidal, Arthur and Malcolm have also further bolstered the midfield and attacking options to balance out departures of Andre Gomes, Paulinho on loan and Andres Iniesta to Japan. Twenty-three-year-old Frenchman Clement Lenglet’s arrival from Sevilla is a defensive substitution for Colombian Yerry Mina’s big money transfer to Everton, and Barcelona should cash in returns immediately with World Cup-winning Samuel Umtiti earning a red card against PSV.

In short, Barcelona is stacked.

Messi’s magic may not get its deserved due with Ronaldo no longer a direct opponent in Spain, but the opening round of La Liga play served as a reminder that the magician still has a wand for a left foot and is still playing at the level that makes him seem like he’s an extraterrestrial visitor.

In the 2018-19 La Liga opener, Messi scored Barcelona’s 6,000th La Liga goal versus Alaves with a free kick belted under the wall from just outside the area, and his second goal that day was perhaps even more impressive. (Notably, Messi also scored Barcelona’s 5,000th La Liga goal way back in February of 2009.)

Ten seasons on, Barcelona seems like an easy bet to claim the domestic double. Real Madrid’s transition has been addressed, and Atletico Madrid is improved, but Diego Simeone’s men have already given up ground in the league with one win in four to start the domestic campaign. Barcelona failing to finish atop Spain seems unlikely, to put it mildly.

It’s unfortunately easy to slight Messi’s brilliance because he’s been numbing the public to his quotidian displays of artistic genius for over a decade. Messi is still, almost always, standing noticeably head and shoulders above the other players in the park despite, typically, being the shortest player on the pitch.

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For everyone else, that’s amazing. For Messi, it’s routine.

“Last season was very good because we won the cup and La Liga but the Champions League sticks in our throat, especially given the way we were eliminated,” Messi told the crowd in his captain’s address at Camp Nou to start the season.

He added, “We promise you this year we’re going to do everything possible so that this beautiful and much sought-after cup comes back to the Camp Nou again.”

In his inaugural address to the fans as captain, the seldom-heard superstar publicly pledged bringing Champions League glory back to the Camp Nou because the best player on the planet, when one truly takes an erudite look back, already fulfilled every other possible promise last season.

After the first month of the campaign and the first 90 minutes of the Champions League, Messi still hasn’t changed, while Barcelona looks strikingly stronger than a season ago.

Shahan Ahmed is a soccer columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow Shahan on Twitter: @ShahanLA.