Lionel's Messi's 8 Most Memorable Individual Performances
When you are the three-time World Player of the Year like Lionel Messi, it's fair to say that you have put in more than your share of decent shifts on the pitch.
The Argentinian's recent exploits have reopened the debate about whether or not he can already be regarded as the best player of all time.
In his last 10 games alone he has scored 19 goals, establishing himself as Barcelona's all-time top scorer in the process.
Here are eight of his best performances to date. As ever, if you have any to add, please feel free to do so.
Clasico Hat Trick: March 10, 2007
This was the night that Lionel Messi truly made the leap from being one of the most promising young talents in world football to being a genuine star.
Three times Real Madrid led at the Nou Camp, and three times Messi struck to deny Barca's great rivals all three points, the last of those goals coming with just three minutes remaining.
Fabio Capello's Real went on to win the title that season regardless, but that night saw the arrival of the player who has been the thorn in their side ever since.
The New Maradona: April 18, 2007
Unlike so many other Argentinian players who have been blessed/cursed by being dubbed "The New Diego Maradona," Messi literally lived up to the great No.10 in a Copa del Rey tie against Getafe.
Just like El Diego's classic goal against England at the 1986 World Cup (not the handball, the other one) Messi cut in from the right, ran half the length of the pitch, beat five players and slotted a cool finish past the keeper with a sixth outfielder sliding in on him.
Television broadcasters ran painstakingly edited split-screens of the two goals to show just how eerily similar they were, while newspaper El Pais awarded him four stars in their three-star player rating system.
If anyone had not heard of Messi beforehand, the way the footage was beamed around the world ensured everyone got acquainted with him.
Changing of the Guard: May 27, 2009
Messi's goal, the second in a 2-0 win over Manchester United, is notable enough for it being scored via a header, something the five-foot, seven-inch forward has not exactly made a habit of doing in his career.
It also saw him take centre stage in a European Cup final for the first time (after he played no part in the comeback win over Arsenal in Paris in 2006) and extended his total for the tournament to nine goals, seeing him top the scoring charts by two clear goals.
But, perhaps most significantly, he did it on a pitch he shared with Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning World Player of the Year. With the Portuguese unable to lead his team to a defence of the trophy, it was a symbolic moment which saw the baton of the world's best player passed on to Messi, who has barely loosened his grip on it since.
Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid: November 26, 2010
One of the most astonishing results in recent years, last season's Clasico at Camp Nou is not just a highlight for Messi but for every Barca player, just as it is the nadir of every player unfortunate enough to be wearing white that evening.
Messi did not score in this clinical dissection of Barca's bitter rivals—it was the first time in 10 games in which he failed to find the net—but his performance was a truly influential and masterful one.
His clever movement and neat, simple passing (for the most part) allowed his teammates to exploit the spaces opening up in the Real back line to devastating effect, and he set up both of David Villa's goals before Sergio Ramos was sent off in the dying moments for a nasty tackle made out of frustration.
All in all, a good night's work.
Messi 4-0 Arsenal: April 6, 2010
By the time Barca played Arsenal in the last 16 of the Champions League in 2009-10, Messi was the undisputed best player in the world.
After the two sides shared four goals at the Emirates Stadium, the return fixture saw something extra special from Messi.
Nicklas Bendtner gave the Gunners an early lead to put them ahead on aggregate, but that was as good as it got for Arsene Wenger's side.
Messi responded with a rocket of a strike from the edge of the area, a neat finish inside the box, an effortless chip over the helpless Manuel Almunia and a cheeky pass between the keeper's legs in the closing stages to register his first ever four-goal haul in one of the most scintillating individual performances ever seen in the European Cup.
Messi Finally Conquers England: May 28, 2011
Last May, Manchester United was looking for revenge over Barca in their own back yard (kind of). The Red Devils won their first European Cup at Wembley, and their second in Barcelona, so wouldn't it be fitting to win their third by combining the two?
They were still in touch at halftime after Wayne Rooney cancelled out Pedro Rodriguez's opener, but Messi knocked the wind right out of their sails when he scored nine minutes after the break.
While his goal was hardly a classic by his or anyone else's standards—his low shot from 25 yards was right at Edwin van der Sar, but the Dutch keeper let it past him—it still represented something of a landmark for him, in that it was his first goal on English soil at the ninth attempt.
Oh, and it won him his third Champions League winner's medal, too.
Super Messi Wins Super Copa: August 17, 2011
Even those suffering from 'Clasico fatigue' following Barca and Real meeting four times in just 17 days at the business end of last season cannot have helped but be shook out of their funk by Messi's match-winning exploits in the Super Copa de Espana in mid-August.
After he scored in the 2-2 draw at the Bernabeu, he was imperious—he picked out Andres Iniesta with a superb pass to open the scoring, and then put his team back in front on the stroke of halftime when he latched on to Gerard Pique's backheel and finished with aplomb.
Karim Benzema's 82nd-minute leveller threatened to send the thriller into extra time, but Messi settled the matter four minutes from time with a stunning finish to convert Adriano's cross.
The final whistle brought with it an unseemly scrap that featured such delights as Jose Mourinho poking Barca coach Tito Vilanova in the eye, but the record books will show yet another Barcelona trophy won thanks to Lionel Messi.
Messi's Own Personal 'Manita': March 7, 2012
The 5-0 drubbing of Real Madrid has become known as "La Manita," as Barca's fans like to wave a hand with five outstretched digits to their most bitter rivals by way of reminding them of that most comprehensive of victories.
Lionel Messi may not have scored that night, but he claimed a "Manita" of his own earlier this season in the second leg of Barcelona's Champions League last-16 tie with Bayer Leverkusen.
His goals that night included two lobs and a long-range screamer as he became the first player to score five goals in one Champions League game, and against last season's runners-up in the Bundesliga to boot.
Yet Another Record: March 20, 2012
The five-goal haul against Leverkusen took Messi a few steps closer to breaking Cesar Rodriguez's 60-year-old goal-scoring record of 232 goals for Barcelona.
Just 13 days later, he broke that record in a clash against Granada in La Liga. He needed two goals on the night to overtake Rodriguez. He scored three, as Barca ran out 5-3 winners.
The pick of the bunch was the second (which broke the record), a sumptuous lob from right in front of the goalkeeper which had such an arc and a weight to it that it lifted high enough but dropped quickly enough to the give the keeper no chance at all of stopping it.
But to Messi, it was just another goal, and just another record in an incredible, unprecedented career.
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