Lionel Messi signals early intent to return Champions League to Barcelona

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Lionel Messi signals early intent to return Champions League to Barcelona
David Ramos/Getty Images

The Champions League is back, and with it returns one of our favourite rivalries—Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi.

After watching his Real Madrid nemesis return to European football in style Tuesday night, Messi followed his lead with a treble of his own in Barcelona's 4-0 win over Ajax.

It wasn't just about those two, though. Wednesday night's clash at Camp Nou was one between two of Europe's most heralded clubs; two clubs that play in the right way, preach the right values and are bound together by the legend of Johan Cruyff.

The Dutchman didn't travel to Barcelona for the first ever official meeting between the two sides though, with reports on Sky Sports citing difficulties with the Catalan's club president. But if he had been there, he would have seen Messi signal Barca's intent to win a competition they were so humiliatingly knocked out of at the end of last season to Bayern Munich.

Ajax had lost their last eight matches against Spanish sides, and it was always likely to become nine in a row when Messi dusted himself down to whip in La Blaugrana's opener from a free kick after 22 minutes—his 60th goal in the Europe's premier competition.

That forced Frank de Boer's team—a former Barca player himself—to open up a little bit more. But while Bojan huffed and puffed for the visitors, showing their only real signs of quality, they always looked likely to concede again before they scored.

They managed to hold out until halftime, only for a certain Argentinian to pop up again after the break.

Sergio Busquets was allowed to run before rolling the simplest of passes to his right, where the strangely unmarked Messi was able to cut inside and fire past Kenneth Vermeer.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Two soon became three which, in turn, became four.

First of all, Neymar, who was brilliant up against Ricardo van Rhijn all night, delivered a ball bursting with quality, which Gerard Pique would have been rude not to head past Vermeer—who found himself in no man's land incidentally.

And then Messi completed his hat-trick. Determined not to let Ronaldo's new contract and exploits against Galatasaray steal the show, he picked the ball up inside the box, delayed, stood still and then fired in Barca's fourth to ensure a comfortable opening night for the Catalans.

There was still time for Ajax to miss a penalty: Victor Valdes, who has been very good for a very long period of time now, rebutting Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's spot-kick.

Gerardo Martino is now unbeaten in his first seven competitive matches as Barca's coach, winning five and drawing two.

In a week where Graham Hunter, writing for ESPN, suggested Barca were in danger of becoming too stale if they continued to tow the philosophical line which has seen Ajax slip a way from Europe's elite, his appointment is once again in the spotlight as a welcome one.

Tata has not been afraid to substitute players, Messi as one example, or even leave them on the bench—Xavi Hernandez was not in the starting XI against Ajax—and it is seen as a positive by many people associated with the club.

Wednesday night, once again, was Messi's night. And with the pain of those Bayern defeats still fresh and a fit, in-form Messi on your side, few would bet against you going all the way in the Champions League.

Follow @samuelmarsden

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