Lionel Messi made his first appearance in nearly two months and, in typical Messi fashion, celebrated that fact with two goals as a somewhat subdued Barcelona eased to a 4-0 victory against Getafe in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday.
Messi played nearly 30 minutes as a second-half substitute in the first leg triumph at the Camp Nou, coming on moments after Cesc Fabregas had grabbed his second goal of the game to put the hosts in charge of the tie.
He slipped in and out of the game for much of his cameo return, but capped off matters with a straightforward 89th minute strike to give his side an extra level of comfort, before producing a trademark mazy run in the final minute of injury time before burying a shot home.
The Argentine’s return, especially in such emphatic fashion, comes at the perfect time for Barcelona and their head coach Gerardo Martino with the club set to face fellow title challengers Atletico Madrid in perhaps their biggest game of the season to date at the weekend.
Compared with that mouth-watering contest the cup match was somewhat underwhelming, with nearly 60,000 empty seats on show inside the stadium for a match that kicked off at 10 p.m. local time.
Nevertheless, those that did turn up saw a straightforward victory, with Fabregas grabbing the lead for his side after eight minutes before doubling the advantage from the penalty spot shortly after half-time.
Then came Messi’s return, which was greeted vociferously by the near 40,000 inside the ground. The No. 10 produced one impactful moment that immediately suggested he could be ready to start against the Rojiblancos, skipping past two Getafe defenders in inimitable fashion before producing a clipped cross that only narrowly evaded the head of Alexis Sanchez at the far post.
That was to just be the appetizer however.
It seemed like Messi’s final chance to get on the scoresheet upon his return had come and gone when he crashed an 88th minute free-kick into the wall. But the football gods had different ideas as Sergio Busquets’ clever through-ball was miscontrolled by Martin Montoya straight into the path of Messi, who had only to apply the simplest of side-foots to the ball to send it into the net.
If that was a goal that could have been scored by any number of lesser talents, then his second was very particular to Messi’s vast talents. A slick through-ball gave Messi a glimmer of space inside the Getafe back line out on the right, but he still had 40 yards of ground to cover before he could consider a shot at goal.
That he did with remarkable ease, gliding between defenders before wrapping his foot around the ball and rippling the net for the second time in a handful of minutes.
The game finished 4-0, with Barcelona confident of being able to secure their place in the next round of the competition when the second leg comes around.
But the return of Messi was perhaps more significant—with all hoping he will make a similar, or perhaps even greater, impact against Atletico.
Barcelona have a crucial league contest against fellow title challengers Atletico Madrid on Saturday, before heading to the Coliseum Alfonso Perez for the second leg of this tie next Thursday.
Getafe, meanwhile, host strugglers Rayo Vallecano before they lock horns with the Blaugrana (and Messi) again.