Last Wednesday's Champions League semi final first leg between Barcelona and Bayern Munich at the Nou Camp was the best match I have witnessed in years. It was everything you would expect a typical, emotional Champions League semi final to be like.
Up until the 77th minute when Messi struck, it was a great contest between arguably the two best teams in Europe. It was a lesson in how to play football from two teams who have the same style and play the most beautiful football in the world.
For Barcelona, it's their club's philosophy and for Bayern it's their manager's philosophy. But, unfortunately for Pep Guardiola, Bayern aren't the right team to try and implement his style of football on because, in doing that, he is trying to completely change a club's philosophy. It's like going to Barcelona and trying to make them play direct football; Tata Martino tried that last season, as did Luis Enrique for a bit at the start of this season, and the players just don't respond well to it and neither do the fans.
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Personally, I love Guardiola but this time I believe he has made the wrong choice in going to Bayern and managing them.
What is also unfortunate for Guardiola is that he doesn't have the little genius who he helped make the best player in the world and who helped him become the most successful Barcelona coach in their history: Lionel Messi.
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How do words even begin to describe Messi and do justice to the things we see him do with a football? He plays on a different galaxy to the rest of us. He's a god amongst men. He does things with a football that we could never have thought possible and yet he does them with such ease and audacity it's almost spell-binding. As Thierry Henry said after the match: "Lionel Messi just happened."
All of a sudden, Messi just decided he was gonna take a hold of the game and that's exactly what he did, scoring two goals in three minutes, the second of which left Boateng on the floor as if someone had physically grabbed hold of him and pulled him over.
Manuel Neuer, Xabi Alonso, and Philipp Lahm made the mistake of talking Messi down before the game. Neuer said he would "show him who is boss", Alonso said Ronaldo had been better than him when Alonso was himself at Real and Lahm said that Messi would be "no problem" to deal with. This was probably quite stupid of them as Messi is the type of character who responds to criticisms on the pitch. And how he made them eat their words!
This game was total confirmation that Messi has pulled himself back to his magical, dazzling, jaw-dropping best, after a very difficult 2014 due to injuries and off the pitch issues.
Credit to Enrique
Luis Enrique is also due a lot of credit for how he has managed to evolve this Barcelona team. At first he tried to change them into a direct playing team but after the fallout in January with Messi and a few of the senior players, he listened to his players and took on board their advice and now it has all worked out incredibly well and he is on the verge of a treble in his first season at Barcelona.
He has kept all the key values that Barcelona have of possession football and tiki taka but has also thrown in a bit of direct football when needed, which works wonders with Luis Suarez up front, who after a shaky start to his Barcelona career, is now settling into his role wonderfully.
We are witnessing greatness once again from a team who looked last season like they were past their best and wouldn't again reach the heights of the Guardiola era. But here they are with one foot in the Champions League final. Destiny awaits.
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