UEFA Champions League

Lionel Messi 'Substitute' Comment to Luis Suarez at Arsenal Sparks Intrigue

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates scoring his second goal  during the UEFA Champions League round of 16 first leg match between Arsenal and Barcelona on February 23, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 25, 2016

Barcelona star Lionel Messi has left plenty of football fans scratching their heads following comments made in the wake of his team’s 2-0 win over Arsenal in midweek, claiming he “played as a substitute.”

As reported by Sport, Ecodiario quoted Messi uttering the line to Luis Suarez after the game, in which he started and scored two goals for the Blaugrana. However, it’s not quite clear what the Argentina international meant.

Here’s a look at the comments made by Messi, in Spanish, after the game, per El Chiringuito TV:

“A ‘steady-cam’ captured a few words from the Barca No.10 as he shared a joke about his supposed ‘absence’ during a good part of the game,” claimed Sport. “…He was presumably making a comment in regards to his late goals in the tie.”

Indeed, it was only late in the match that Messi came to life. While he was typically neat and tidy in all aspects of his play, for long spells Neymar and Suarez looked the most likely to break the deadlock.

Arsenal kept Messi quiet for long spells of the match.
Arsenal kept Messi quiet for long spells of the match.ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Yet Messi was able to superbly finish off a counter-attack in the 71st minute after excellent work from his fellow attackers, before he won and then scored a penalty seven minutes from time. It was a contribution that essentially puts an end to the tie and all but secures Barcelona’s spot in the quarter-finals of the competition.

Here’s a look at the superb first goal, which paved the way for a fine win for the Catalan outfit, per BT Sport Football:

Arsenal did well to contain Messi and his fellow attackers for significant portions, with Nacho Monreal doing a fine job at left-back. However, as the game disintegrated from a tactical clash into a frantic contest in the latter stages, it freed up space for both sides and, crucially, the diminutive genius.

Messi had time to pick his spot and give Barcelona the lead.
Messi had time to pick his spot and give Barcelona the lead.Mitchell Gunn/Getty Images

That was clear in the opening goal, as Messi had time in the box to make the finish look easy. However, the touch to sit Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech down, followed by a composed effort, was poetry in motion from the forward.

As noted by OptaJavier, getting one past Cech has been a long time coming for Messi, having previously been thwarted by the goalkeeper in clashes against Chelsea:

That Messi sparkled late on—as a “substitute,” as he might say—is no surprise, though. While Arsenal were able to match Barcelona for stints in the match, as soon as the intensity levels of the opposition side drop off the tiniest amount, the European champions, and especially their talisman, pounce.

It’s been evident already this season—the Blaugrana scored four times in the last 15 minutes against Celta Vigo in their recent 6-1 win in La Liga. So while nullifying Messi’s influence for portions of games is doable, how to shut him down—as well as Neymar and Suarez—for an entire 90 minutes is a puzzle yet to be solved.

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