It seems like Lionel Messi is breaking records every week. This time, he is about to overtake legend Xavi Hernandez for most appearances (768) for Barcelona. After countless trophies and unparalleled success, it is only right that Messi holds this record too. He has reached the highest of highs and lowest of lows with the club, and Cúles will be hoping that the two parties will remain interlocked for the future. After all, Barcelona’s future is finally both promising and palpable.
5. Manchester United | 2009 Champions League Final
There’s no better place to start this list than with Messi’s personal favorite.
The 2008/09 campaign was monumental not only for Barcelona but Messi too. In Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge, the squad was overturned, tiki-taka was introduced, and they wreaked havoc across Europe. For Messi, this season saw him unlocked as a “false 9”, and he established himself as the best player in the world.
In the span of three days in late May 2009, Barcelona won the Copa del Rey and La Liga. Two weeks later, they were set to play Manchester United in the Champions League final. Led by Sir Alex Ferguson and headlined by stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, United had already secured four trophies and were the defending CL champions. After years of failing to score against an English opponent, it was the perfect opportunity for a 21-year old Messi to assert himself on the biggest stage in club football.
It was a clear and cool night in Rome. The match started as a back and forth affair as neither side could get into a rhythm. Although, United already registered five shots in the opening eight minutes.
Nonetheless, Barcelona could not be contained. Andres Iniesta picked up the ball at the halfway line and worked his way into the final third, laying it off the Samuel Eto’o. The Cameroonian cut inside and slotted the ball past Edwin van der Sar. 1-0.
The Blaugrana dominated the rest of the night with silky smooth passing and composure, but couldn’t find the second goal–that is, until the 69th minute…
United cleared the ball out of the box after an Eto’o cross, and it fell to Xavi. The midfield maestro had tons of space and his eyes were locked on one target. Messi sat on the edge of the box, eagerly anticipating his teammate’s delivery. He was free of his markers and moved in. Xavi crossed the ball high into the penalty area. Of all outcomes, what followed was the least expected.
United’s defenders watched in awe as the diminutive Argentine took to the skies. Messi leapt into the air — reaching unimaginable heights — and headed the ball into the top right corner, past Van der Sar, who could do nothing but watch it fall into the back of the net.
As he landed on the ground, his shoe came off. He held it in his hand and kissed it as he went on to celebrate. Just as Manchester United were unable to comprehend what happened, the video replay shows captain Carles Puyol’s awestruck reaction as he placed his hands over his head.
To this day, it remains one of Messi’s most unique goals, something he has not been able to replicate. It is also his most antithetical goal, one that defies everything he is known for, thus it makes perfect sense that it is his favourite.
Barça went on to win the match 2-0 and secure the Champions League. On a night in Rome, Messi emerged as a gladiator.
4. Bayern Munich | 2015 Champions League Semi-Final
Flash forward to May 2015. Barcelona are locked in a tight race for La Liga; they secured the Copa del Rey a few weeks earlier, and they are two games away from making their first UCL Final in four years. Who is standing in their way? Bayern Munich, led by none other than Pep Guardiola himself.
Suffice to say, this match was full of intrigue. Besides it being a clash of titans, it was Guardiola’s first match against Barcelona since he left in 2012. Furthermore, Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer had some words to say before the match. In response to an interview question about containing Messi, he said, “It’s crucial to show authority when we meet on the pitch and show him who’s boss.” This was the first time the two would face off since the World Cup Final the prior summer that saw Germany beat Argentina.
The first 80 minutes of the game was a stalemate. There were plenty of chances to go around, but no side was clinical enough. It looked like Guardiola’s defensive scheme was shutting down the “MSN”, the most elite attacking trio in the sport’s history.
But as Guardiola had seen first hand on many occasions, greatness can not be contained. In the 77th minute, Messi found space outside the box and fired the ball past Neuer’s near post. It was the breakthrough the Catalans needed, but that goal wouldn’t be what dominated the headlines the next day–and for many years to come…
In the 80th minute, the ball fell to Ivan Rakitic. He surveyed the pitch and saw Messi making a forward run. The Argentine picked up the ball in his stride and was one-on-one against Jerome Boateng.
“And here he is again,” said the commentator Martin Tyler.
His subtle footwork and speed was too much for the German defender, and with a perfectly timed feint, Messi dropped him to the Camp Nou’s ground. It was like something out of an NBA game. That scene would permeate social media edits and videos for eternity.
“Here he is again!”
The entire stadium was on the edge of their seats. The commentators held their breaths. Messi was one-on-one against Neuer. He chipped the ball with his weak foot at the slightest of angles. Goal.
“It’s astonishing, it’s absolutely world-class!”
The Camp Nou erupted in cheers like never before. Messi ran to celebrate near the fans as he was bombarded by his teammates.
The dribble and the finish were so subtle and nonchalant, yet extremely expressive and inspired. He dropped a world-class defender on his knees, and he chipped the greatest goalkeeper in the world with his weaker foot at his near post. In a crucial Champions League tie when his team needed him most, he stepped up. It was the perfect move, followed by the perfect finish.
3. Getafe | 2006/07 Copa del Rey Round of 16
“Encara Messi, encara Messi.”
Whether a Barcelona fan or not, these words are instantly recognizable. Translated to “still Messi”, this is all the commentator could say when a 19-year old Messi dribbled past practically an entire team en route to scoring one of his most iconic goals, one that echoed Diego Maradona’s “Goal of the Century”.
It was the Copa del Rey Round of 16, and Barça desperately needed some optimism in the midst of a rough season (2006/07). Unfortunately, they would end up losing on aggregate to Getafe, but Messi’s goal would reverberate around the globe.
In the 28th minute, Messi receives the ball within his own half off a quick pass from Xavi.
He easily gets past the first lunging defender and swiftly nutmegs the second. He then outpaces the two of them before turning another defender. The defenders collide and fall to the ground. He continues running towards the goal, regardless of whoever is thrown at him.
With each passing move, the Camp Nou is getting louder and louder.
Messi dodges a sliding tackle outside the box with a cut inside.
The commentators get more and more excited.
One-on-one with the keeper, Messi feints past him.
The entire stadium stands on its feet.
With the tightest of angles, Messi slides and slips the ball into the back of the net.
The crowd goes wild as a 19-year old Messi just single-handedly rampaged through half a team.
That night, Messi showed the world that he is, well, out of this world. The goal was so special that it was voted by fans in 2019 as the best goal in the club’s history. Although it is number three in this list, you can’t go wrong with it as his best.
2. Real Madrid | 2010/11 Champions League Semi-Final
This list would not be complete without including one of Messi’s goals against his club’s biggest rivals: Real Madrid. In 2010/11, Barcelona were in the midst of another iconic season, but Real Madrid, led by José Mourinho, stood in their way of getting to the CL final. This was also during the peak of El Clasico when both teams had the best players in the world and the matches were filled with drama and controversy.
Tensions were particularly high as the two teams would face off four times in three weeks. They drew on April 16 in the league, Madrid won the Copa del Rey final on April 20, and their Champions League semi-final matchups were the following weeks. Furthermore, Barcelona demolished them 5-0 at home earlier in the year.
Barça traveled to the Santiago Bernabeu and hoped to earn a promising result in the first leg.
The match was a tense yet ugly affair, marred by rough challenges and fights. After a goalless first half, players were fighting in the dugout and Barcelona substitute goalie Pinto was given a red card. In the 61st minute, Madrid central defender Pepe was sent off for a reckless challenge, followed by José Mourinho who was arguing with the call.
Nevertheless, the match began to change near the end of the game. In the 76th minute, Barça winger Ibrahim Afellay receives the ball down the right-hand flank. He uses his pace to get past Marcelo, and Messi is on the receiving end of his cross. 1-0 for the Blaugrana. Things were looking good, but they were about to get a whole lot better.
87th minute: 3 minutes remain in the match.
Messi has the ball near the halfway line. He’s one-on-one against Lassana Diarra. He plays it to Busquets, who stands still and screens Diarra. Messi picks the ball from him and runs.
One: he leaves Diarra in the dust.
Two: he feints by Sergio Ramos.
Three: he pushes the ball past Alvaro Arbeloa.
Four: he shields it from Marcelo.
Five: he falls to the ground and slots it past Iker Casillas.
Commentator Peter Drury summed it up perfectly, “Away from two, three, four. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. […] A mere supernatural goal from Lionel Messi!”
The Bernabeu is silent barring a few visiting Barcelona fans. Messi runs to the subs warming up and celebrates wildly. He tore through Madrid’s defence like they were boys on a schoolyard but there was nothing they could do about it. They point fingers at each other as the camera pans to José Mourinho who looks on in despair. Messi took over the Bernabeu that night, and it wouldn’t be his last.
The Catalans carried a 2-0 lead into the second leg and went on to win against Manchester United in the Champions League final.
In an ugly affair, Messi’s goal was a thing of beauty.
1. Athletic Bilbao | 2014/15 Copa del Rey Final
To be frank, it was nearly impossible to choose Messi’s “best goal” for Barcelona, let alone to isolate five for this list. One can’t go wrong with choosing any of these, or any other goal for that matter. Each one has a special meaning to us and lies in an even more special place in our hearts. For us at Barça Universal, Messi’s goal in the 2015 Copa del Rey Final is a (narrow) cut above the rest. It was truly something else.
In the span of mere seconds, Messi unleashed something the world had never seen before, yet if anyone was to score it, it would be him. It was a goal so astounding that ESPN’s Sport Science department attempted to explain it and were blown away by the results. One also has to consider the sheer audacity of the Argentine to score this in a cup final.
The goal came 20 minutes into the first half. Messi receives the ball from Dani Alves on the halfway line, near the right-flank. He’s one-on-one with his defender and far from goal. He pauses and considers making a pass – thankfully he doesn’t. He then makes a cut inside and tries to run past him.
The defender does well to keep up and Messi finds himself in a cul-de-sac of three red and white shirts. He expertly slows down, draws them in, and with three quick touches, he gets past all of them.
“Oh there’s three of them around him and he’s still going!” said the commentating duo of Kevin Keatings and Rob Palmer.
He marauds into the edge of the box with the ball at his feet. There are two more defenders and a keeper between him and the goal, and the shooting angle is tight.
“It’s a brilliant run from Messi, can he go all the way!?”
He eases past one with a cut outside and sets up a shot. Luis Suarez is in its path but intelligently decides to jump over it; the last defender’s block is ineffective. With incredible power and accuracy, the ball zips past Iraola’s near post and enters the back of the net. Golazo.
“It’s one of the great Copa del Rey final goals! From the magical, mercurial Lionel Messi.” – In fact, it’s one of the greatest ever goals.
The Camp Nou goes berserk. His teammates flail their arms in the air with glee. Messi runs to the corner and is embraced by his team. Each player is filled with awe and adrenaline. Despite being some of the best players in the world, they have never seen something like that. The stadium erupts in “Messi” cheers as cúles bow down to the king.
In a team full of stars, Messi shined brightest.
Over 767 games and 16 years since his debut for Barcelona, Messi has consistently graced football pitches with his talent, determination, and ingenuity. As aforementioned, it is nearly impossible to pick out Messi’s best goals for Barcelona, and any combination of them makes sense. After all, the list of his greatest shots and finishes would go on for an eternity. Amazingly, at age 33, he has scored some fantastic goals over the last few months that are worthy of making such a list.
This particular collection of goals highlighted a variety of styles and just serves as a further reminder of how special he is. Despite the immense quality of opponents and the added pressure of playing in big games, each of these finishes looked effortless. Whether with sky-high headers, light chips, or (literally) dribbling past an entire team, Messi is truly an opposition’s worst nightmare, and he’s not done yet.
As he passes this monumental achievement, all we can do is be grateful for his time on Earth because one day, he will return to his alien planet.