Sorry, rest of Europe. Lionel Messi is back.
The Argentinian superstar, who had been out since Nov. 10 with a torn left hamstring, scored a brace in his return on Wednesday night, helping Barcelona to a 4-0 victory over Getafe in the first leg of the Copa del Rey round of 16 matchup.
Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino decided to play it safe with his prized possession, electing to keep Messi on the bench until the 64th minute.
Naturally, in about a half-hour, Messi managed to put together the kind of production that most players dream of in a full 90-minute match. Let's start with the two goals.
The first, which came in the 89th minute, was a little right-place, right-time action, as Martin Montoya received the ball in the box on a beautiful feed from Sergio Busquets and laid it off to Messi, who calmly and clinically passed it into the bottom corner of the net:
Once Messi had remembered what it was like to score, he wasted no time enjoying his second.
Just four minutes later, he received the ball on the break and turned in what you pretty much expect every Messi goal to look like. With the defense at its heels, he made a long, surging, explosive run with the ball seemingly glued to his feet before slotting it perfectly past the helpless goalkeeper:
As Graham Ruthven noted, however, the defense left quite a bit to be desired:
Great to see Messi back but pretty terrible defending by Getafe for his second goal. Backed off and backed off and... oh. He's scored.— Graham Ruthven (@grahamruthven) January 8, 2014
That is certainly true, but defenders typically look worse or get caught in no-man's land when someone with the speed, control and dribbling prowess of Messi is barreling down on them.
If you had any questions about how the best player in the world would return to form, they should all be answered by now. In addition to the two goals, Messi, per WhoScored.com, fired off four shots, completed a team-high four dribbles and delivered a key pass in the box. The barcastuff Twitter feed, via David Saura Ramiro, gives us a look at all his passes:
He was given WhoScored.com Man of the Match—remember, he played 30 minutes—with a rating of 8.71.
Veteran Barca defender Carles Puyol summed it up perfectly, via barcastuff:
Puyol: "Messi was out for two months, but it's clear he didn't forget how to play football. He trained well, this is the result." #fcblive— barcastuff (@barcastuff) January 8, 2014
Puyol: "Messi is the best player in the world. We're a lot stronger now that he's back." #fcblive— barcastuff (@barcastuff) January 8, 2014
Barcelona tread water just fine without their superstar. They are currently tied with Atletico Madrid atop La Liga, won their Champions League group and are clearly in good shape in the Copa del Rey.
But with Messi back and playing like, well, Messi, the Catalans are a real threat for the treble.