Lionel Messi is lauded for his goalscoring and dribbling ability, however last night he proved his versatility, switching up his roles against Manchester City.
Barcelona danced their way around Manchester City in what was akin to a salsa vs City’s game of musical chairs, as they advanced to the quarter-finals.
The scoreline greatly flattered the blue side of Manchester, so much so that Joe Hart was the standout player for City. His battle with Barca’s formidable front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez was sensational.
The one man that stood out in the Nou Camp for the home side however was Messi. Many will point to the ability he showed to skip past the Citizens’ players throughout the game as his high points, however the way Messi passed and won the ball back makes this writer ponder if he is actually the ultimate utility player?
His work-rate to track back and help out his midfield team-mates in breaking up attacks was something which won’t be glorified but it was an element of his play, particularly in the first half.
The Argentinian was played into some fantastic positions, only to be stopped by the magnificent Hart, but he was the creator rather than recipient more often than not.
The 27-year-old’s role at Barca is largely undefined. Although he will be described as the quintessential number ten, Messi strikes some resemblances with the role Wayne Rooney had at Manchester United up until a few weeks ago. His vision on the ball was something Louis van Gaal had used in the way Luis Enrique deploys Messi at the Nou Camp, albeit with the Argentinian having a more roaming style of play.
The two players of course have differing styles to their game but the way Messi flirts between playmaker and striker is a fascinating combination. The pivotal moment where he proved he is not just about dribbling and goalscoring was his assist for Ivan Rakitic’s game-winning goal.
The same ball he played to set free the Croatian was repeated time after time against Manchester City but Manuel Pellegrini’s side were incapable of repelling its effectiveness.
Neymar and Messi himself were both guilty of missing chances on the night but for this writer it was that playmaker side to Messi’s game which stood out. The pictures he sees on the pitch are easy to pick up on when he has the ball at his feet but his vision to play inch-perfect passes in the final third is equally as majestic.
There’s only one place most want to see Messi and that’s as Barca’s main frontman. There is no denying this is where he will hurt most sides, but as the Champions League hots up, it’s the four-time Ballon d’Or winner’s versatility which is likely to be of equal importance.
Against Manchester City he stuck with second or third gear, especially as the game began to peter out. Now we wait in anticipation for Messi to kick-on to that next level he is capable of in the quarter-finals.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
Featured image by Laia Solanellas [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons