Lionel Messi hits his free kick for Barcelona against Alaves in the two clubs’ 2018-19 La Liga opener. (Getty)
Lionel Messi’s genius will never expire.
Maybe someday age will impair his physical gifts. Maybe someday his body will betray his brain. But he is so ineffably special. And after a summer of questions and criticism, Messi wasted no time reminding us all of his greatness.
With Barcelona stalling in its 2018-19 La Liga opener, Messi stepped up to a 64th-minute free kick. From a similar position in the first half, he had gone over the wall and struck the crossbar. This time he went under to break Alaves’ admirable resistance:
Have another look …
… and another one, this time from the stands of Camp Nou:
Philippe Coutinho put the game away with a stinging shot in the 83rd minute. But the Catalan evening was all about the little Argentine. He got his second, and Barcelona’s third, in stoppage time just for good measure.
The question of whether Messi could singlehandedly carry a team tailed him throughout a failed Argentinean World Cup campaign. After 90 minutes back in Spain, he left little doubt he can still carry Barca.
Messi did it all for Barcelona
Despite a scoreless hour, Barcelona’s attack had looked decent. But so many of the positive takeaways were formed with the ball at Messi’s feet. So many of the negative ones were formed with the ball elsewhere.
Messi started on the right of a front three, with Luis Suarez up front and Ousmane Dembele on the left. The midfield three behind them were Sergio Busquets holding, Ivan Rakitic left and Sergi Roberto right.
Any team with Messi in it, however, is going to be necessarily asymmetrical. Messi, as always, had license to come inside and form a front two with Suarez. He did that early on, running onto a direct ball over the top, dusting a defender with a hesitation, and firing a right footed shot just wide. It was eerily similar to his movement against Nigeria for a goal at the World Cup.
An out-to-in run was also the source of his second goal on Saturday:
Messi, in addition to the goals, was the Creator-in-Chief. He would occasionally hang out on the right touchline, stretching Alaves and letting teammates take the attacking reins. Barcelona will be able to bleed games with possession like that.
But, as always, Messi found it necessary to seek out the ball. That’s when Barca was most potent. Messi dictated everything. He played Dembele through under pressure in the first half for what very well could have been a goal. He won the free kick that he himself spanked off the post, and also the one he scored. Minutes after the goal, he chipped a left-footed shot off the far post.
If there were worries Barcelona would be reliant on Messi, despite all the talent around him, they weren’t necessarily quelled. But if there was a worry Barca would be too reliant on him, they were eased. Because Messi can do things no other human being has ever been able to do.
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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.