We are a little under a day removed from Barcelona’s 7-1 win, and I am still in disbelief that Lionel Messi scored five. Well, I know that Messi is pretty good and all that, and the five goals themselves are not really surprising, but the statistics are just other-worldly. Lionel Messi is the first person to score five goals in a UEFA Champions League match, and the first player to score four or more on two occasions in the competition. Furthermore, Messi is the first player to score two hat-tricks in a single Champions League campaign, and with his five goal haul yesterday, he became only the second man in history to score three hat-tricks in the competition. That other man is Flippo Inzaghi, who is widely regarded as perhaps the greatest poacher of our generation.
But hold on, it gets better. Messi now has 18 career hat-tricks, and it is his EIGHTH hat-trick of the season. Hell, it was his second hat-trick in a week. Those five goals ensured that he scored more against Leverkusen in those 90 minutes than the whole of Chelsea’s team did in 180 minutes. In fact, he scored more in 90 minutes against Leverkusen than the World’s Best Striker Robin Van Persie (according to Arsene Wenger anyway) did in the entire competition. His twelve goals in this season’s competition is the joint-highest total ever (equalling a record he co-holds with Ruud Van Nistelrooy) and means Leo has scored more this season in the UCL than teams such as Arsenal, both Manchester clubs (now out of course) and even Bayern Munich.
Messi is now on 48 goals for the season, in only 42 games, and is only seven goals off equalling the all-time record for goals scored which was set by the late, great Cesar Rodriguez over the course of 13 years. If he continues at the same rate, and features in every possible game remaining (and Barcelona reach the Champions League final), then he will reach the 70 goal barrier. The thing is, this figure should be unreachable, but as it is Lionel Messi, you merely accept it. The man may or may not be the best player ever, but he sure as hell is a gift from the footballing Gods. With Leo in the team, anything is possible.
Anyway, that’s enough love for Lionel Messi for the time being, what about the match? Did Barcelona really play that well, and why were they so successful? Well, just like the weekend, this was a complete domination. Barcelona kept 77% of the possession, won 57% of the aerial duels and were considerably more accurate with their passing, thanks no doubt to Xavi, Busquets and Iniesta. In fact, despite the biblical amount of possession, Barcelona even made more tackles than Leverkusen. This tells me one thing, and really, it’s all we need to know: Barcelona wanted it more.
Sure, Leverkusen were effectively out after the first leg, but they could have at least gave it a go like Arsenal did against Milan. Maybe they did but Barcelona were simply so effective it looked as though they were not trying. Whatever the case, this just goes to show that Barcelona are not on the decline at all. When they want to, they will eviscerate teams, but it is just a question of whether or not they want to on the day in question. Thankfully, this team will turn up when it matters, so the Champions League must be considered a winnable competition.
Unlike the weekend however, there was purpose with most of the passes, and while some may attribute that solely to Lionel Messi’s presence, the stats indicate that other factors played their part.
For a start, Barcelona were much more varied in terms of attacking zones attacking down the middle and left on 32% of the time, with the remaining 36% coming from the right hand side. This near equal split of attacking directions ensured that Bayer Leverkusen never knew what was coming next, as opposed to Barcelona’s predictable approach against Sporting Gijon. In that match, the Blaugrana only attacked down the right on 23% of attacks, with 35% coming from the left, and the remaining 42% coming through the middle, despite Messi’s absence. I thoroughly believe that this varied approach is how Barcelona achieve their best results. Who knew whether the next attack would involve Alves, or Messi, or Tello, Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc; the list goes on and on. Wherever you looked Barcelona could cause damage, and they knew that, distributing the ball equally to their stars, keeping Leverkusen on their toes. Or as it turned out, on the ropes.
This was effectively a dead-rubber match, but Barcelona also knew this and that Leverkusen would slowly lose both confidence and energy the longer the match progressed with Barca in possession. So, naturally, the Blaugrana decided to test the statisticians watching the game by completing 989 passes. Whatever which way you look in the stats, all it shows is that Barcelona dominated the match, but I guess we already gathered that from last night!
Stat Quiz: Lionel Messi scored five goals from seven total shots against Bayer Leverkusen, but how many shots did Cristiano Ronaldo need to score one goal against Tottenham in their 4-0 win last season? Comment with your answer below, and I will keep score with some sort of points system that will run for the rest of the season, maybe with a prize as well for the winner. Try not to cheat though... :)