Lionel Messi Brace Leads Barcelona to Win vs. Manchester United, Progress in UCL

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2019

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (L) scores  during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final second leg football match between Barcelona and Manchester United at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on April 16, 2019. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)
JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

Lionel Messi scored twice as Barcelona reached the semi-final of the UEFA Champions League after beating Manchester United 3-0 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday. Messi scored a stunning opener in the first half, then saw a shot squirm under the body of United goalkeeper David De Gea for his second.

A long-range effort from Philippe Coutinho settled the second leg of the quarter-final 4-0 on aggregate in Barca's favour after last week's 1-0 victory at Old Trafford.

Messi Needs Another Champions League Win to Settle Cristiano Ronaldo Debate

It was fitting Messi's second goal came just moments after Cristiano Ronaldo had again found the net in the tournament he's owned in recent seasons. While Ronaldo put Juventus in front against Ajax in Turin, Messi danced around and through United, giving fans of both yet more ammunition to debate the ultimate question: just who is better?

Messi or Ronaldo is the constantly engaging debate of modern football. Before 2014, it probably wasn't much of a question, with Messi having the title of world's best player to himself in the minds of all but a few.

Things changed though as Ronaldo won European club football's biggest trophy in four out of five seasons with Real Madrid. His run included a hat-trick of wins in the last three campaigns, with no doubt about who was the driving force of the team.

Real's decline since Ronaldo left for Juventus last summer has only underlined his importance and buoyed those who believe he's the best on the planet.

Of course, Messi's no slouch when it comes to showing off Champions League bling. He's won the trophy four times, although he was a more active part in three of those triumphs.

Messi was injured for the win over Arsenal in the 2006 final, a campaign during which the precocious talent hadn't yet come of age as Barca's talisman.

Based on overall ability, Messi is Ronaldo's superior. Yet he needs to match five Champions League wins to prove it.

More specifically, Messi needs to drag a Barcelona side inferior to previous vintages to the trophy, the way Ronaldo consistently did for Real. Those teams weren't the youngest, quickest or most dominant defensively, but they boasted the tournament's deadliest goalscorer.

Similarly, this Barcelona team is a shell of the one Messi won with in 2015, when Neymar dazzled on the left, Luis Suarez was the right side of 30 and Andres Iniesta was still around to pull the strings from midfield.

Iniesta's gone and so is Xavi, with Barca no longer the kings of artful passing. Instead, the Blaugrana are more reliant than ever on Messi for both creative and goalscoring inspiration.

Two goals and an assist over the course of a tie during which he almost single-handedly dismantled United proves Messi can do it. In the process, he would provide the ultimate rebuttal to those fronting for team Ronaldo.

   

United Must Cash in on De Gea This Summer

If there's one silver lining to be taken from De Gea gifting Messi a second goal it's how his mistake can make parting with the goalkeeper this summer easier. United need to cash in on De Gea to raise the transfer funds for an overhaul of the squad this Champions League mauling proves is needed.

Aside from Paul Pogba and possibly Marcus Rashford, De Gea is the United player likely to fetch the most cash if he was allowed to hit the market. To some, it would be unthinkable, given the Spaniard's status in the minds of many as the best at his position in the game.

While it's true De Gea has saved United more than he's let them down, the fact he's needed so often is another reflection of the inherent weaknesses in this squad.

Then there are the pesky and growing number of blunders:

The Red Devils wouldn't be short of suitors for their stopper. Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain are said to be keen, while Real Madrid never seem to lose interest

United don't need De Gea as much as they need a better team in front of him. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can always find a competent stopper from around the continent, but he'll need resources to add the talent his team are short of elsewhere.

   

What's Next?

Barca return to La Liga action with a home game against Real Sociedad on Saturday, while United are away at Everton in the Premier League on Sunday.

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