Real Madrid 2, Barça 3, aka “Sant Messi”

When you don’t know what to say or do, you scream.

When a moment happens that is so extraordinary that words can’t form in the haze of your brain, you scream.

FC Barcelona has given its supporters two such moments this season, first with the remuntada against PSG then today, a match that will define being a culer for many. PSG was astonishing, but today — no words. It was the greatest player in the game deciding that today, there would be no losing.

It was his teammates deciding to live up to his high standard, as almost every member of the XI had a key role in what has been, whether you are a neutral, culer or Madridista, the best Classic that anyone can remember in some time.

It is impossible to understand Lionel Andres Messi, impossible to understand how he must see the game. When players are in the zone, they talk about time slowing down, talk about basketball hoops being as big as a lake, about opposing players that seem frozen in time.

It’s like that for Messi all the time, even when he isn’t up to his own standard. This is a player who was elbowed in the mouth, deliberately to my view, who lay on the pitch quite actually gushing blood. He returned, holding gauze to his mouth to stanch the flow, laying out a pass while dabbing at his own blood, which is red, despite those who expected it to glisten, turning into gold as it struck the Bernabeu pitch.

Messi struck the equalizer, then he struck the winner. Both came from unerring lasers that had to find a sliver of space in the atmosphere of a net minder in Keylor Navas, who was having an astonishing day. He struck his 500th goal on the same day that the man who many assert is in his league, Cristiano Ronaldo, failed to lift his team.

Messi scored the winner, removed his shirt and ran over to the stands to hold it up, so that the crowd, the world could see who did this, and the team that he plays for, the club that he has in his heart.

Football takes your emotions and wrecks them, takes your equilibrium and flings it off a psychic cliff before — every now and again — making you weep in exultation at moments that you don’t understand because they go against everything that was supposed to happen.

Real Madrid equalized in the 86th minute, and only two minutes were added. Barça looked at sixes and sevens, being outplayed by opponents who were down to 10 after their captain was shown a deserved red for a leg-breaker aimed at Messi.

The 86th minute. And they kept pressing, kept attacking. My mind was resigned to a 2-2 draw, resigned to hoping beyond hope that someone would do Barça a solid, give some help in the Liga, as this match was done and dusted, another one pulled from the fire by a team that has specialized in thiem this season.

It’s doubtful that any of us thought that helper would be Sergi Roberto, who got off the spit on which he was being roasted by Marcelo long enough for, with about 30 seconds left on the clock, a run, a sinuous, uncertain, stunning, exemplary thing that was like a tightrope walker waiting for a stiff breeze. Surely someone was going to foul him, stopping play and leaving a single, simple set piece left. Surely. But he kept running, head swiveling, looking for danger at first, then looking for options.

He laid the ball to Andre Gomes, the “oh, no, not him” sub who acquited himself better than usual today, the man who, at this instance, became la pausa embodied. He took the pass, and for what seemed an eternity, looked. Then looked some more, then looked again, seeking not only options, but viable ones as Real Madrid rushed back in disarray.

Gomes found Jordi Alba, who knew exactly what to do. Number 10, the player who, in his status as the most dangerous man on the pitch for Real Madrid, just kept moving, kept sliding around in little curves until he popped up in space. Alba found him, Messi didn’t err. Everything was on the line, and a goal made at the feet of a pair of Masia kids put the dragon to the sword on Sant Jordi’s day, in the dragon’s lair. You couldn’t have asked for a better ending to a gripping match that was packed with energy, intensity and high, high drama.

A special word for Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, who kept his team in the match with save after save, play after play, and Keylor Navas, who seemed determined to top Ter Stegen’s efforts at becoming a glory hog. History will record that Messi scored the winner, because history rarely gives net minders the kind of love that Ter Stegen deserved. But diving left, diving right, making an absurd, reflex kick save, his team was in the match because of him, just as Real Madrid could say the same of Navas.

Marcelo was amazing, the key to all the danger that could be mustered by Real Madrid. And Rakitic. Que golazo, as he received the ball and Real Madrid dared him to shoot, gave him space to shoot, allowed the man who is underappreciated because 90 percent of what he does is donkey work, the chance to show what he could do. His piledriver put Barça in the lead, an exemplary moment by an exemplary player.

Spare a thought for Iniesta, who was magnificent today, hauling his aging body up for a match for the ages, one that evinced control, command and silk. Gray temples, aged legs and still he slid around, still they couldn’t get the ball off him. He played a glittering pass that deserved a better fate, ran faster than even he thought himself capable as Barça returned to passing and movement, sliding the ball around the midfield on a day when the trident was missing a tine due to suspension, and another due to poor form.

Busquets was pure evil. He reads a match like no player in the game, understanding that, as Cruijff said, the fastest player isn’t necessarily the fastest on the pitch. But the player with the fastest mind will almost always get there first, because he understands the game.

It was Pique with massive dispossessions, and Umtiti, with interceptions, and one rainbow chip of a pass that brought gasps even as he was unfazed, because it’s just what he does.

All those players, all that glory, all of that effort and it still came down to the feet, the focus, the mind of Messi, who is so far and away the best player in the game that any discussions about it are pointless. Just shrug and walk away. Pressure is a weird thing, the way it makes different players respond. Good players sometimes become great, and greats become geniuses.

And then there’s Messi. Let’s be clear about this: he didn’t win the match by himself, but it would be impossible not to assert that his titanic presence was the reason his team won, the reason everybody lifted themselves up for one more period of inspiration against a team that everyone believed was going to win. They were deeper, they were in better form, were luckier, had a better coach and everything else. Barça was a mess, with an outgoing coach, a team just waiting for the other shoe to drop so that it could hit the reset button.

But the Classic is special, especially for players who are also culer. Messi, Iniesta, Pique, Busquets, Sergi Roberto shone brightly when they had to because culers want to beat Barça’s eternal rival more than they want to breathe. They want to go into their house, stomp on their souls and walk out. Today’s victory was, in so many ways, more exquisite than the 2-6, more fun than the Manita, more devastating than the 0-4 because this wasn’t supposed to be a loss. It was expected to be, at best, a draw, as their comeback kids did it again, snatched points from the jaws of defeat again. Statisticians were telling us how many times it had happened this year.

A tousle-headed young man from the Barça academy didn’t care about any of that, didn’t care about what was supposed to happen as once again, he became a giant as a time when ordinary players become tiny. And he ran, and ran, and ran a bit more, knowing exactly what to do with the ball because he had been trained in that since a wee lad doing kickabouts.

A man whose career road is paved with milestones, slammed home his 500th goal on a day when his team needed him, a strike that helped put the hated rival to the sword, who stared pressure in the face as he has done time and again, then did what he does better than anyone else in the history of the game.

Pressure. Gomes knew what to do, Alba knew what to do, nobody had to question whether Messi knew what to do. At the end of it all was a piece of psychic evisceration that ended with the greatest of them all displaying his shimmering blaugrana flag, emblazoned with the name of the knight who slayed the dragon. As the official site said, Sant Messi Glorios. What more need be said?

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. omoh
    April 23, 2017

    Sorry KXEVIN I’m too overjoyed to read this. Maybe I’ll read it later and comment.

    Let me enjoy the moment.

    • omoh
      April 23, 2017






  2. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    April 23, 2017




  3. ChaoticReaper
    April 23, 2017

    Any coach could just give the ball to Messi and we would eventually get lucky. Lucho is still bad

    • Yaredinho
      April 24, 2017

      Did you tell that to LE before Juve match?! That would be nice of you! Having so much knowledge, you could/would/should have helped us by letting LE know what to do! BTW it seems our board yet to decide on the new manager, update your resume and get ready for the millions!

    • untoxgsd
      April 24, 2017

      To chaotic ripper: Its clear as day that you’re a Madrid fan and you’re here to stir sh*t up. This is a site for Barca fans to share their opinions and love for the team. Go act like a child somewhere else!

  4. Víctor
    April 23, 2017

    No case talking about LE… he is gonna be out at the end of this season… so it doesn’t longer matter of he is good or not…

    As for Ramos red card… I think that his claps were directed at Pique and his constant tweets and media talk. Whatever…

    Barcelona defeated RM even without Neymar… that’s really something.

  5. PPos
    April 23, 2017

    We just beat Real Madrid at the Bernabeu y the noventaymessi minute and people keep complaining about Luis Enrique?! Get out! Enjoy the win! Luis Enrique did great today. His tactical set up was great. He realized that Madrid sucks at defending through the middle because Casemiro (that smug lucky punk) tends to not cut off the space between Kroos and Modric sometimes. The first goal, through the middle, the second, as well, excellent composure from Rakitic, his form was immaculate in pulling his right arm up and back to create the necessary counterbalance to drive through the ball.
    He always scores big goals for example the Champions League final or against Atletico.

    I’ve always been saying this for years. Don’t piss Messi off, fouling him and bloodying him only turns out bad for you. Messi must be sick and tired of seeing how his rating in FIFA went down to 93 and Ronaldo’s has gone to 94. How the press keeps saying that he hasn’t scored in three years in El Clasico. That Barcelona is finished, the end of an era. We were predicted to lose this by everyone that’s what made this victory so much sweeter. I honestly I’m so tired of this revamped madridismo that has swept the footballing world. I hate it. It makes me sick to my stomach. Enough is enough.

    Football never ceases to amaze me. Its proven again that it’s never over until the last whistle. Andre Gomes did very well. He had the audacity to look right and left. He saw Messi and knew that if Alba got the ball on the overlap. It was over. Cristiano’s face at the end was a glorious sight. Messi Ballon d’Or 2016/2017

  6. Davour
    April 24, 2017

    Jim mentioned how the tide started to turn when Busi and Iniesta began to play – and how! But also when Messi made a fool of Casemiro mid-pitch. You could see then that he was turned on. And how!

    Thanks team for a wonderful game (and thanks Kxevin for a beautiful article!).

  7. t4f4dzw4
    April 24, 2017

    92nd minutes. A miracle is needed. Ramos is not on the pitch. Roberto is. There can only be one way it can end.

  8. April 24, 2017

    I throat hurts. Still wants to scream ha ha. This was my Liga..
    Messi, Ter Stegen, Sergi Roberto , followed by Busi and Iniesta, Rakitic and Pique, plus a special shout to Alba. Am glad LE realises how good he is inspite of his deficiencies.

    In some ways Neymar absent in this game helped us, may I say, We didnt lose much balls in the left wing, even if there were moments, especially in the first half, when I thought Neymar would have made us even attacking.

    Sorry Jim, I am afraid am beginning to dislike Suarez. How can such a player can have so terrible first touches..

    • raj
      April 24, 2017

      I second the Neymar observation Rajesh. He slows down play too many times for my liking. He doesn’t know how to be selective about making his dribbles. He simply ignores good passing options even when he has no space to run into.

      Having said that, he can operate at the level of Messi (blasphemy?) if he brings temperament and better judgement to his game. Otherwise, I don’t see him getting anywhere beyond Ronaldo in terms of greatness, despite better skillsets.

    • April 24, 2017

      If Neymar had received that ball instead of Gomes, Alba wont be receiving that ball, I say this with all my respects for Neymar.
      Neymar , I dont think will get intelligent like Messi as Leo was showing his intelligence in passing and decision making by the time he was 23 or 24. But he should at least be treated as a better player than CR7 when he retires. For that it is imperative he improves on all front, finishing, decision making..

      On other things, I also thought RM played better with a man down and we looked like may be we were happy to avoid defeat. even terribly tired and SRoberto drank his secret energy drink and made that run!!!

    • Jim
      April 24, 2017

      He’s that sort of player, Fotobirajesh. He’s capable of great touches and clumsy ones. I agree he didn’t have a great game last night but chased and hassled pretty well given that at times both Messi and Alcacer were withdrawn from the front line. We don’t always notice the unseen running he does. Have a look at Messi’s first goal. Suarez times his run beautifully to take Nacho the couple of steps necessary away from Messi’s path. I liked the way he defended on corners winning a few important headers near the front post. I also thought he was very unlucky with his volley from an unbelievable Iniesta pass with the outside of the foot. Superb technique to keep the knee over that but Navas was inspired on the night. On the other hand he should have controlled Messi’s through ball. Loved his deliberate but subtle blocking of Nacho so he couldn’t reach Messi on the last goal though ! He can frustrate some but we maybe need to temper that with the facts that he’s the second top scorer in La Liga this season ( only led by the GOAT!) and he also has the most assists in La Liga. He has also played the most minutes of MSN. A complete team player for me.

      One of the best things to come out of the night though for me was the way Iniesta glued the midfield with minimum effort. He and Busi were the top two passers on the field. That’s as it should be for us, not the defence. That more central joined up role with less defensive running made us look more like the old Barca and much more difficult to play against. We looked like a team again and Messi thrived on the further up the field platform the mids gave him.

      Hopefully, this will ease Iniesta’s mind and he’ll renew this week !

  9. untoxgsd
    April 24, 2017

    WHAT A GAME!!!
    This team has the players and the heart to do anything and it goes to show that more or less top class teams are even in power and it just comes down to the details. For example the red cards for Bayern completely ruined their chances for a spot in the semis or Iniestas missed chance in the first leg
    against Juve. I feel that if those thing hadnt happened thing would be diffeeent right now!!
    Nevertheless this was so important, we payed them back with their own medicine, last minute goals which cost as the 3 points against them in the Camp Nou.
    Fact: this was the first goal they conceeded in added time in the Bernabeu EVER!!!
    Congrats to the team, i still believe that we will win the league in the end!!!
    You guys should see other sites and blogs, the sh*it they throw at Ter Stegen, Neymar, Raki is unbeleivable, i dont get out fanbase sometimes….

    • TITO
      April 24, 2017

      Well, forget that they are a Barca fanbase, most of them just kids probably or illiterate on football.
      Anyway, the game just shows that we are capable of doing things, maybe that’s why most of us feel disappointed when the team doesn’t show up in some crucial games.
      We know they can, they know they can, it just doesn’t happen.

  10. RT
    April 24, 2017

    I couldn’t even scream, I was stunned into silence.
    Thanks to Kevin for this glorious article, and the care you take in crediting everyone on the team.
    Rakitic! His goal made me so happy, not only because it was a great goal but because we’ve often missed that this season – i.e. someone other than MSN scoring (and mostly M), so that was so important. I’m also glad Gomes played a part in that last goal, hope it helps his confidence. I don’t really have anything to say about Messi! I’ll just say that I loved his celebration! Additionally, I like Marcelo in general but that elbow looked intentional.
    We needed this. No matter how the league race ends (fingers crossed), this gives us life.

  11. TITO
    April 24, 2017

    Few things:
    1. Marcelo’s elbow was intentional.
    2. Casemiro should have been earlier sent off.
    3. I can’t believe the amount of NO offside calls on them, especially in the second half.
    4. Gomes had another great pass earlier, when Pique missed that chance.
    5. Suarez needs to get his scoring boots on again.

    • RT
      April 24, 2017

      Agree to all of your points!

  12. April 24, 2017

    A few quick things:

    EUMD is my favorite analysis site because Albert Moren’s work is bloodless, free of agenda and narrative. His Classic report is particularly interesting, as it discusses tactical changes, and some of the things Luis Enrique had to do to try to minimize his team’s weaknesses as he faced off against Zidane. Helps if you have Spanish, but run your translator app if you must.

    — Luis Enrique is leaving. Let him be. Save the bile for his successor, who will also fail in the face of supporter expectation and larger-than-life giants of the past.

    — Neymar is the second-best player in the game. There weren’t screams about Ronaldinho holding up the ball, as I recall. When Neymar is on the move and has a pass, he makes it. When there isn’t an option, he has to wait for one, or use his possession to create options for a teammate.

    He’s coachable, selfless, a superstar willing to do donkey work to help his team. Look at the difference his absence made on the defensive side, even more than the offensive side, even as both were significant.

    His actions that led to his absence were stupid. That has been chronicled. He will learn circumspection. But my heavens, what a player. Someone above asserts that if Neymar was in the match, the pass to Alba wouldn’t have been made. Why? Neymar constantly chooses the right pass, the right action. Might he have beaten his defender to feed Messi directly? Maybe. But with that play unfolding like that, everything that he has learned at Barça would have argued for the exact same action that Gomes executed.

    If Neymar playing his game and holding possession wasn’t part of the program, wouldn’t Luis Enrique have told him to stop it, to keep the thing moving. That he continues to do it has to mean that it is a weapon. When he faces up against a defender, rare is the man he can’t beat. It’s another option in attack, and a very dangerous one.

    There is only one Messi. Neymar will never reach that level because of the reasons that rare players are rare players. No next Messi, no next Xavi, etc. But Neymar can improve, and he will. It’s worth appreciating what we have while we have it in that player.

    Works like a dog on defense, to the detriment of his attacking game, because that’s what the team needs, and does this while Suarez stands around, glowers and misses chances. He knows that every time he gets the ball, he will get kicked, and still he takes it on, foul after foul, to help his team win matches.

    From this chair, he deserves more respect that he gets from so many. He was expected to be a funny-haired flop, an expensive Robinho II. He is, at 25, already the second-best player in the game, in line behind a colossus. Even as we can say that he has growing to do, he works his ass off, is coachable and decisive. It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate what we have, before it flits off to do, like Dani Alves, what he used to do for us, to us. And man, will that day suck.

    • squeen
      April 24, 2017

      A nice (translated) quote from the nice EUMD site you pointed me to:

      “Three points that squeeze the league, which leave us a Madrid less solid than I imagined and a Barça as vulnerable as we expected but still does not fall on the appointed days. But above all, they leave us the return of dominion of Leo Messi to the classics. Leo has ceased to be mortal, returns to be above the game. The ten is once more than the eleven.”

      The quote is from an article written in 2014. Some things never change. 🙂

    • Rami
      April 24, 2017

      Thanks kevin, This site looks like a gem, Too bad it’s in Spanish, Google translate is way too wishy-washy to translate something like a tactical analysis,

      Damn it!!

  13. squeen
    April 24, 2017

    There is something about the way he takes the physical abuse, the solemn demeanor, his refusal to accept defeat, how he addresses the crowd, and to be honest now the beard…well I get confused. Who am I watching? Is this some holy man? He makes me want to be a better person. What it must be like to play along side him.

    And Sergi Roberto, with his youthful faith. Didn’t anyone ever tell him there’s no such things as fairy tale ending? His quote from the official web site:
    “…We’ll need to work hard on the games we have left. We’ll try to win them all.
    We’ll fight until the end.”
    I have no doubt you will, and woe betide the manager that ever drops you from the squad. I love that kid.

    The obituaries for this team were all pre-written, and while the Liga might end as the CL did, fans have been given two amazing gifts this year by a team of fading warriors that refuse to let the dream die. What more could you want from any sport? What drama! Makes you feel alive!

    They keep trying to duplicate the magic, but Barca: 57.5% possession—what more needs to be said?

    Great article. Your prose is at its best when it inspires and lifts us up like it did to me this time. Thank you.

    • April 24, 2017

      Thank you for the kind words, but I can’t take a lot of credit. I sit down and start typing, reacting to feelings that give me something to write about. Sometimes it’s a match, sometimes it’s something going on here. The process is always fast, because I want it to be as honest as possible. I’m just happy to have this space, and happy that people read. It’s a lot of fun to write stuff off the top of my head like that, and I appreciate that everyone is so patient with that quality.

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