The Liverpool forward played well but Barcelona’s magician wrote his name all over another Champions League semi-final
There was a moment at the end of this game – like so many other Lionel Messi moments – that you felt like pulling out of the air, taking home and keeping on a constant loop in the front of your brain. Like all the best Messi bits it was a moment of jaw-dropping skill. It was also very funny.
In the last seconds of stoppage time, with Barcelona already 3-0 up, Ousmane Dembélé led a breakaway from a Liverpool corner. Inside him Messi chugged forward, legs pounding the grass, battery draining, not so much eating up the ground as grimly chugging it down.
Dembélé gave him the ball. Messi stopped and played a pass of genuine absurdity, a waggle of the hips throwing every covering grey shirt towards the far corner flag, like sailors tossed by a wave, as he slipped the ball back to Dembélé in front of goal. It was the old Messi paradox: how is it possible for one man to spot something nobody else among the 90,000 other pairs of watching eyes can see, to pull these angles out of the air, these planes of movement?
Brilliantly Dembélé even managed to miss, shooting weakly at Alisson. Messi flopped face first on the grass as the whistle blew for full-time. By that stage the best player in this world or any other had written his name all overanother Champions League semi-final. Throughout the second half Messi had come at Liverpool in waves, producing those hypnotic little turns where suddenly the day stops and only one man seems to be moving. But that wasn’t the whole story. Liverpool did run Barcelona close in the opening hour, led by Mohamed Salah.