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‘Could have ended his season’: Lionel Messi on the end of ugly lunge as Villarreal rival sees red in La Liga clash (VIDEO)

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This post originally appeared on RT Sport News

‘Could have ended his season’: Lionel Messi on the end of ugly lunge as Villarreal rival sees red in La Liga clash (VIDEO)

Fans feared for Lionel Messi after the Barcelona maestro was the victim of rough treatment from Villarreal midfielder Manu Trigueros, who was handed a straight red card for a lunge in the teams’ La Liga encounter.

With hosts Villarreal 2-1 down and chasing the game, Trigueros took his urgency too far as he went in on Messi in an attempt to win the ball in the 66th minute.

After initially making contact and flicking the ball away from the Barcelona number 10, Trigueros followed through with his leg extended, making contact with Messi’s lower shin.

While there may have been no malicious intent from the Villarreal man, the action undoubtedly imperiled Messi and Trigueros was handed his marching orders by referee Carlos del Cerro Grande

After treatment, Messi was able to dust himself down and carry on as the hosts were forced to play the remainder of the game with 10 men at Estadio de la Ceramica.

Fans online feared that Messi was being targeted for the kind of rough treatment he can often be subjected to as Barcelona’s main danger man – with some claiming the rash challenge could have ended the 33-year-old star’s season.

“Messi has now taken a whack to the face and a potential leg-breaking tackle – and that’s just in the last five minutes!” said one Twitter account.

“Yet he just gets up and carries on. Please don’t tell me he couldn’t handle the ‘physicality’ elsewhere.”

Another simply added: “What a dangerous tackle.”

Messi was again the target less than 10 minutes later when he was shoved by Villarreal’s Pau Torres after beating his man down the right and dangerously bearing down on the penalty box. Pau was handed a yellow for that infringement.

Earlier in the match, Villarreal had taken the lead through Nigerian youngster Samuel Chukwueze in the 26th minute as he latched onto a pass to round Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and finish from a tight angle.

Bidding to keep pace with La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid, Barcelona bounced back almost immediately with a quick-fire double through French forward Antoine Griezmann to put them 2-1 ahead. 

Despite the opposition being down to 10 men for much of the second half, Barca failed to make the extra man count but still picked up a crucial three points.

That moved Ronald Koeman’s men level on 71 points with Real Madrid in the table, just two points behind leaders Atletico.

Barca and Atleti have both played 32 games while Zinedine Zidane’s defending champions have played one more.

Perhaps just importantly for Barcelona and their title challenge, talisman Messi emerged unscathed from what could have been a damaging 90 minutes for the Argentine star.   

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Lionel Messi set to tie all-time El Clasico appearance record – but will Saturday’s LaLiga clash against Real Madrid be his last?

Lionel Messi set to tie all-time El Clasico appearance record – but will Saturday’s LaLiga clash against Real Madrid be his last?

Lionel Messi is set to make his 45th ‘El Clasico’ appearance when resurgent LaLiga superpowers Barcelona meet arch-rivals Real Madrid clash on Saturday evening. But should football fans be prepared for this to be his swansong?

For a while, it seemed as if this season’s LaLiga title race was all over bar the shouting. Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid had built an impressive lead at the summit of the table which had threatened to arrest Barcelona and Real Madrid’s stranglehold on the league in recent seasons, particularly as both powerhouses struggled for momentum for a variety of reasons. 

In Barcelona’s case, the decline seemed the most apparent. Long gone appeared the days of their tiki-taka excellence which led to them being the most the successful European side of the last decade or more, replaced instead by a changing-of-the-guard Champions League whitewashing last summer courtesy of Bayern Munich.

Rancor was felt both in the boardroom and on the pitch. Barcelona’s greatest ever player, Argentina magician Messi, began to cast glances elsewhere for the first time in his career and pushed for a move to the likes of the cash-rich Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City in a feud which threatened to escape the Camp Nou and finds its conclusion in a courtroom.
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New boss Ronald Koeman also struggled early to imprint his philosophies early in what threatened to be a further decay of the great club’s legacy.

But as Barcelona and Messi threatened to degenerate into an Ozymandias-like ruined effigy of what they once were, things began to change.

Atletico’s lead has been eroded from 12 points in December to a single point today, meaning that Saturday’s ‘El Clasico’ winner could usurp Simeone’s side in the standings – although Real Madrid would require a margin of victory of more than four goals to do so.

What has changed? Well, in Barcelona’s case at least, one needs only to look to Messi. After failing to impress for much of 2020, his form this year has rivals anyone in Europe’s top five leagues.

His last 13 games in Barca colors have resulted in 16 goals and seven assists as part of a run crucial to his team’s late title push, as well as their advancement to next Sunday’s Copa del Rey final.

Messi will tie the record set by Madrid skipper Sergio Ramos, who won’t play on Saturday, for the most El Clasico appearances (45) in a game which was earmarked earlier in the campaign, during his wantaway spell, as his potential final appearance for Barcelona in Spanish football’s most heated rivalry.

However, the re-election of Joan Laporta to the Barcelona presidency – the man who guided the club through their most successful era under Pep Guardiola – has coincided with the sharp upturn in form, and suggested that Messi will be convinced to stay in what would be the delivery of one of Laporta’s central campaign promises.

Real Madrid, too, enter the game in a rich vein of form. They are unbeaten since January as coach Zinedine Zidane continues to wring impressive performances out of the club’s galaxy of veteran stars such as Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Ramos’s absence could well be felt, though, in such a pivotal fixture.

The timing of both clubs’ comebacks couldn’t have come at a better time for either. In Messi’s case, it is thought that his future at the club is directly linked to their ability to prove that they can still win trophies, despite the club being saddled with a debt which obstructs their ability to manoeuvre in the transfer market. 

Saturday’s game will be crucial to that. If Barcelona can nudge their noses in front in the hunt for another title, one suspects that it could well be key to persuading the man who has authored so much of their success to stick around for just a little bit longer – and mean that his record-breaking ‘El Clasico’ appearance tally won’t end here.
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Time’s up: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo must move on this summer if they really want to win the Champions League again

Time’s up: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo must move on this summer if they really want to win the Champions League again

Despite what they might argue, Barcelona and Juventus remain highly unconvincing works in progress after their latest early Champions League exits. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo haven’t got time to lose another wasted season.

Juventus were only knocked out on away goals. Barcelona would only have been two goals down if Messi’s late first-half penalty had gone in rather than hit Keylor Navas and the crossbar.

Ronaldo should have scored from a free header. PSG should not have been awarded the penalty from which Kylian Mbappe put them 5-1 up on aggregate at the Parc des Princes.

There are, as usual, plenty of ifs, buts, coulds, shoulds and woulds around Barcelona and Juventus’ latest calamitously premature ends to their Champions League campaigns.

No matter how tangible the parallel universe in which they progressed seems to some, Messi and Ronaldo are both out at the round of 16 stage for the first time since 2005.

Whether either of the modern greats could have performed better individually seems as irrelevant a question as quibbling over VAR decisions and inspired goalkeeping in the ties.

Neither of these traditional contenders deserved to reach the quarterfinals. Barcelona were battered in the first leg against Paris courtesy of defensive naivety against Kylian Mbappe’s pace in a performance bearing all the hallmarks of the hopeless defeat to champions Bayern last season, the conclusive measure of how far they had fallen.

Juve arguably lost the tie in the opening minutes of either half in the first leg against Porto. No misfortune or narrow margins can make up for not being switched on upon entering the pitch.

That fatal lack of focus and sharpness is the responsibility of coaches and collective spirit. It is an indictment of the crisis of character facing both clubs that they could not provide a platform from which Ronaldo and Messi could have made the difference that would have sent them to the next round.

Anything other than grasping for optimism would be an effective letter of resignation from coaches Ronald Koeman and Andrea Pirlo, who only need to look at the swift departure of Maurizio Sarri from Juve last season to appreciate the consequences of a preference for realism rather than obstinate blue sky thinking.

Koeman says Messi knows that Barca have a bright future. That seemed somewhat evident in Paris, but it was as much a reminder of how they routinely used to perform as it was an exception to the rule over recent seasons, and difficult to properly analyze in the context of opponents who did not need to attack them.

Barca will take comfort from the welcome return of fluidity and confidence they showed in the second leg, just as Pirlo can plausibly claim his Juve players gave him everything in the final hour of their tie, reacting admirably to force themselves back into the reckoning.

The managerial newcomer has been involved in enough crucial Champions League matches as a player to know that, really, there can be no excuses for losing to opponents ranked as far below Juve as Porto are. But the worst aspect of the defeat was how obvious it became that Sergio Conceicao had inspired every reserve of determination, energy and togetherness from his resolute side.

Had Juventus even done the basics right in those opening moments of the first two halves, let alone performed above par, they would have proved Porto to be the gatekeepers that they look and avoided a repeat of the drama with which they exited the competition last season.

So what do Ronaldo and Messi do now? The only certainty about their clubs is that they will still be in transition this time next year, while the likes of PSG, Manchester City and Real Madrid will be ready to challenge without trying to work out who they are and what their strategy is.

There has always seemed something patronisingly trite about saying that it is a shame when the duo do not make the latter stages, yet the closer they both move towards retirement – or at least a notable long-term cessation of form – the more you hope that they won’t spend their final few seasons in the competition attempting miracles in isolation, only to end up being the subject of more always-next-season post-match press conferences.

There are no guarantees, but Barcelona and Juventus are big names rather than present threats in the rearview mirrors of Europe’s elite right now, showing few signs of catching up in the next few seasons.

Ultimately, if their designs on rebuilds are sincere, they may find them easier to achieve without a talisman around whom tactics must forever be drawn to the distracting sound of constant transfer rumors.

For the rest of the season, their uphill task to win their domestic leagues is the only problem. There are deeper issues to ponder once that is settled, none of which are likely to be solved in time to re-establish themselves in Europe within the remaining career spans of their two best players.

By Ben Miller
Also on rt.com Going out with a bang: Lionel Messi’s astounding goal can’t save Barcelona as he follows Cristiano Ronaldo out of Champions League

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Going out with a bang: Lionel Messi’s astounding goal can’t save Barcelona as he follows Cristiano Ronaldo out of Champions League

Going out with a bang: Lionel Messi’s astounding goal can’t save Barcelona as he follows Cristiano Ronaldo out of Champions League

Lionel Messi scored an astonishing goal and had a penalty saved as Barcelona bowed out of the Champions League at the round of 16 stage, although the manner of Barca’s defeat could say something about his future at the club.

For all the pre-match talk of the epic tie between Barcelona and Paris in 2017, when Barca overcame a 4-0 deficit from the first leg to win 6-1 in the return and go through, the task ahead of them seemed almost impossible after a 4-1 mauling at the Camp Nou three weeks ago when the Spanish giants had looked almost as listless as they did in the latter stages of the tournament last season.

Barcelona made a bright start at the Parc des Princes and were unfortunate to go behind against the run of play, Kylian Mbappe confidently converting a 31st-minute penalty following a highly contentious refereeing decision over a supposed foul that no-one had spotted.

Just when the visitors looked to have no chance after going 5-1 down on aggregate, Messi took matters into his own hands. Even by his standards, the pass he received from Jordi Alba just inside the Paris half appeared an opportunity to start stringing a move together rather than go for goal himself.

Striding forward in a manner that suggested he had been stung into an emergency intervention by Mbappe’s goal, Messi hammered an unstoppable shot beyond Keylor Navas – the official Player of the Match – and into the right-hand corner of the hopelessly beaten goalkeeper’s net from way outside the penalty area.

The venom and power of the strike was spectacular to watch. Then, just before half-time, the moment arrived that could have changed the course of the overall contest.

After Barcelona were awarded a penalty of their own, Messi stepped up with the memory of his perfect penalty in the first leg fresh in the mind, making the prospect of his side moving within two goals of PSG seem little more than a formality.

Navas had other ideas, producing a fine save to his right that had the necessary conviction to deflect the strike on to the crossbar and away, ensuring the French champions maintained their three-goal cushion ahead of the second half.

Although Barcelona had the momentum on the night, the remainder of the game was altogether calmer, offering few near-misses like the one from which 20-year-old US international winger Sergino Dest had earlier hit the crossbar via a fingertip Navas save.

For a team that had gone out at the first knockout stage for the first time since 2007, the sense of positivity after the draw seemed curious and understandable: for the first match among Europe’s elite in some time, Barcelona had looked better than opponents who were Champions League heavyweights and, with the likes of Dest and 18-year-old Pedri within their ranks, shown that their new, young talents can potentially hold their own and herald a brighter future.

The fact that there had been genuine hope for Barcelona as a result of their first-half performance was creditable. There was only a modest amount of trudgery to Messi’s departure from the pitch after the final whistle had blown, sharing hugs, grins and, at worst, rueful smiles.

Whether that was down to the aggregate result failing to surprise him or a genuine sense of promise about his team-mates will no doubt be long-debated for months to come, but Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman was certainly keen to use the result as an advert to try to persuade Messi to renew his contract at the end of this season.

“Leo has seen for quite some time that the team is improving thanks to all the changes we’ve made,” said the Dutchman, who is attempting a rebuilding project and faces the painful risk of losing Messi to the likes of Manchester City during the close season.

“Particularly, we have young players of great quality. We’ve got a great future ahead. Leo can’t have any doubts about what the future holds for this team.”

A dominant draw against a Paris team who were already 4-1 up before kick-off could be viewed as a false dawn for those kind of claims, although it would have been a high-profile blow to Barcelona’s chances of keeping Messi had they capitulated, and there will be arguments that his unsuccessful penalty could have inspired a sensational comeback.

That still seems fanciful given how willing Paris were on the break, almost scoring again towards the end through Mbappe, whose finishing let him down when he had worked his way through to a clear run on goal thanks to his blistering speed and skill.
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The absence of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo from the Champions League quarterfinals is a shame for neutral viewers and the first time they have both failed to feature in the final eight of the competition since 2005.

Mbappe and Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland can now stake a real claim to be imminent successors to Messi and Ronaldo by shining during the remaining stages of the competition.

There are certain to be counter-arguments that the vastly more experienced pair are simply at the wrong clubs rather than on the wane. Barcelona, at least, will be relieved that they can make a case for Messi to believe in their potential after a second leg that was hugely improved, if not a statement of intent for future seasons.
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