Despite shattering records and captivating millions over the last decade, Lionel Messi and Barcelona are still finding ways to break new ground.
You’ve Reached Championship Level!
All people, not just athletes, can hit a good run of form. Particularly in regards to one’s profession, it’s reasonable to expect peaks and valleys from any single individual. For most of those people, the possibility of their performance lowering to extremely poor levels is always there. Personal, economic, and industrial variables can all play into that reality. However, not many people can become invincibly good. Sure, one might have a career year, where they break every record their business or company or school or team has. But those same people usually encounter limits to their potential at some point. Few will ever reach true Championship Level. And nobody ever reaches the level Barcelona reached midweek against Getafe.
Messi’s first goal — a panenka penalty kick — was silly. Suarez’s first — a twisty over-the-shoulder volley — was a Godlike strike. Neymar’s — a casual, far-post slot — was an audacious wing-flutter. Xavi’s — a pearled, outside-of-the-box curler — was like a grandfatherly wink.
But a visit to the league-leaders has a way of inspiring even the slothiest of men, if only temporarily. At fifteen minutes, with the score at 1-0, a fluid counter from Getafe forced Claudio Bravo to desperately thwart Fredy Hinestroza’s looping goalward chip. Barca were on their heels — until they weren’t anymore. Until Camp Nou morphed into something in between Thunderdome and Cirque du Soleil.
It wasn’t so much the amount of goals, nor the goalscorers. On those fronts, things were normal. Two from both Messi and Suarez, one from Neymar, and another from Xavi. (Okay, so the captain doesn’t score much these days, but c’mon, it’s Xavi.) It was more so the manner in which the goals were scored. And I don’t simply mean that they were beautiful works of art; for Barca, they usually are. It’s that they were, in some cases, career strikes deposited with a seemingly spare amount of effort. Suarez’s 25th minute volley was the kind of play you see unfolding before it happens, yet you’re still 100 percent positive that it won’t come off as it does in your head because of its galaxial level of difficulty. Then, when it does happen, when the premonition is fulfilled, it feels as if God must’ve ordained it. That’s pretty much what happened with Xavi’s goal and Messi’s second too. The game started to feel eerie, ridiculous, and even scary. It made, and makes, me wonder what else these miracle men are capable of.
The second half of the Getafe match was more or less carried out for show. Try to evade injury, bring off some of the workhorses to get some rest and relaxation, present an olive branch to your depleted opponents. It felt like the final stage of most Tour de Frances. Except this wasn’t the stage 21, but merely Fecha 34. For Barca, the finish line still hangs like a mirage, many weeks from truly coming into focus. Bayern await, as do Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, and reigning La Liga champs, Atletico Madrid. Of course, those challengers are probably more fearful of their own task than the Catalans are of theirs.
The more this season ebbs on, the more historic it becomes for Luis Enrique’s Blaugrana. Of all the groundbreaks we’ve seen from Barcelona this season, the 102-combined-goal mark reached by Messi, Suarez, and Neymar is perhaps most staggering. It’s a superior total to that of both seminal Barca attacking trios of Messi, Thierry Henry, and Samuel Eto’o, who notched 100 in 2008/09; and Messi, David Villa, and Pedro, who managed 98 in 2010/11. While there’s still another hurdle in that department — Messi, Alexis Sanchez, and Cesc Fabregas totaled 103 in 2011/12, although Messi alone contributed 73 of them — the accomplishment is already noteworthy, especially considering Suarez missed nearly three months of the season due to suspension. And with Messi just one behind Ronaldo in La Liga’s pichichi race (Cristiano has 39; Leo, 38), the internal competition between Barca’s frontline stalwarts remains ever palpable. Through attempting to better their opposition, they’re also quietly battling one another for pride. Yet, there still seems to be a quid-pro-quo on tallies between the three: you score one, you’d better assist the next.
I’ve enjoyed trying to parse the slightest bit of irregular body language amidst MSN’s surplus of goals. It’s admittedly a tough proposition — everyone in Blaugrana seems to be walking on sunshine these days — but I know for sure that each player would rather score than assist. Though I think they’d each take winning over either.
My earlier point about individuals entering an elevated stratosphere of play is further intensified by another startling truth: this Barcelona side are fitting together more seamlessly than ever. Xavi is controlling the midfield, Busquets is anchoring the entire enterprise, and the three-headed attacking Voltron is operating on clouds. It’s one thing to have a bunch of players playing to their maximum; it’s another to have those same players collectively reaching new heights in cooperation with each other. At that point, it grows from You’ve Reach Championship Level to You All Are Reaching Championship Level, Together. That’s a shocking prospect. And, for their upcoming opponents, a problematic one.