“The key moment of the game was when [Lionel] Messi came on,” Ander Herrera told terra.es after Athletic's 2-2 draw with Barcelona on Saturday. “He got a goal and then participated in the other. That’s why he’s the best player in the world."
Even the "best player in the world," it turns out, can get injured. April started with a goal in Paris and ended with one in Bilbao, but for everything in between those two games—118 minutes of football—it's questionable whether he should have been playing.
Prior to Christmas Messi went off injured against Benfica, but returned the very next Sunday to break Gerd Muller's goal-scoring record. Even in the return against PSG, his presence was enough to provide the psychological edge to Barca—plus, he also played a large part in the equalizer.
In Germany last week, though, his aura alone was not enough to fool anyone. Dealt with strongly, fairly too, by the likes of Javi Martinez, the half-fit Messi failed to have any impact as Bayern Munich romped to a 4-0 win.
It was a victory which has left everyone associated with the Catalan club looking for favorable omens and clutching at straws.
"At the Camp Nou since 2008 Barca have scored four goals or more on 59 occasions," Mundo Deportivo told us this week, but that doesn't even consider the possibility of Bayern scoring.
But with Messi's goal-scoring cameo—and what a goal it was too—off the bench at the weekend, the weight has, hopefully more than anything, been shifted back on to his shoulders.
"With Leo, nothing is impossible," was Mundo Deportivo's headline on Monday morning. They are, of course, right. It is not impossible, with or without Messi, for them to beat Bayern 4-0 (although that would only level things out), it's highly improbable though.
A 30-minute performance may well be enough to signal his complete return to fitness, but it doesn't mean he can produce a miracle on Wednesday night.
Teams have overturned four goal deficits in the European Cup in the past, but none have ever recovered after losing the first leg 4-0—Real Madrid came from 5-1 in 1985 and Partizan Belgrade overturned a 6-2 defeat the year before that (via @2010MisterChip).
Messi's seeming return to actual fitness can only be beneficial to Tito Vilanova; however, it can't bring back an away goal, and without one Barca remain vulnerable.
The four-time Ballon d'Or winner might score and create two, three or even four goals, but with chasing a game comes defensive frailties—something La Blaugrana have demonstrated regularly this season anyway.
Against AC Milan they successfully overturned a 2-0 first leg defeat in Italy, but the line was thin. M'baye Niang hit the post in the first half and Jordi Alba's block in the second proved the difference between progression and elimination.
Even if Messi produces something beyond his best yet, he can't be held responsible for the clinical nature of Bayern Munich's attacks—to just convert one would leave Barca needing six goals.