Champions League failings tarnish Leo Messi great year

The Champions League elimination at the hands of Bayern Munich has marred Leo Messi’s good year. The former Barcelona player touched the sky by winning the Qatar 2022 World Cup with Argentina. It was the only title that was missing from his unequalled list of honors and, at the same time, his great unfinished business.

Messi, at 35 years of age, was once again The Best. He won the Ballon d’Or at the World Cup and FIFA again honored him as the Best Men’s Player in the World. The 30 goals and 20 assists he has credited this year between Argentina and PSG deserved it.

However, Messi has stumbled again in the Champions League. He has experienced eight consecutive eliminations since winning his fourth Champions League in 2015, six with Barcelona and two with PSG.

“I came to PSG to win titles and, in particular, the Champions League,” he acknowledged in an interview with Sport. He is aware, however, of the difficulty involved: “Winning the Champions League is complicated, any detail can knock you out. It is not always won by the best.”

Messi’s eight Champions League eliminations in a row

2022-23: Last 16, PSG-Bayern

PSG said goodbye to the Champions League without scoring, neither in the first leg (1-0) nor in the second leg (2-0). Two former players ensured their elimination. Kingsley Coman, who had already knocked PSG out of the 2020 final, scored the equalizer in Paris and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting opened the scoring in Munich. Messi, still at 0-0, had a triple chance to level the tie at the Allianz. Alphonso Davies, Sommer and De Ligt, in that order, prevented it. Two Marco Verratti misses condemned PSG… and Leo. In the second half, like Kylian Mbappe, he barely managed to get into the game. Sergio Ramos threw the team on his back in pursuit of a comeback that never came.

2021-22: Round of 16, PSG-Real Madrid

“Everyone says we are the favorites for the Champions League, but we are still missing things to be a really strong team,” Messi warned as soon as he arrived in Paris. Things, however, were promising. Thibaut Courtois saved a penalty from Leo… but PSG managed to beat Real Madrid in the first leg (1-0) thanks to a goal by Mbappe in the 94th minute. They also started well at the Bernabeu thanks to another Mbappe goal. However, a blunder by Gianlugi Donnarumma unleashed the storm. A hat-trick from Karim Benzema in just 17 minutes made it 3-1 and wiped the Ligue 1 champion off the map.

2020-21: Round of 16, Barcelona-PSG

The first of Messi’s three consecutive knockouts in the last 16 of the Champions League came in 2021, while still a Barcelona player, against his current team. Barcelona, curiously, started winning thanks to a penalty goal by Leo. However, PSG turned the score around (1-4) thanks to a stellar Mbappe, who scored a hat-trick. Far from giving up, Barcelona ‘washed their image’ in Paris with a deceptive 1-1 draw. Messi led the comeback attempt by neutralizing Mbappe’s 1-0 and managed to put fear into PSG. However, Keylor Navas saved a penalty in the last play of the first half that could have changed the outcome of the tie.

2019-20: Quarter-finals, Barcelona-Bayern

The most embarrassing of all the knockouts Messi has suffered in the Champions League throughout his career. It was in the 2020 edition, in Portugal, a single match, because of the pandemic. His ‘executioner’ was the same as in the current season. Bayern crushed Barcelona (8-2). A thrashing that prompted Messi to ask for his departure that summer – then it would not materialize – through the famous burofax. “I told the club, especially the president, that I wanted to leave. I thought it was time to step aside. I thought the club needed more young people, new people, and I thought my time at Barcelona was over,” Leo told Goal.

2018-19: Semi-finals, Barcelona-Liverpool

Barcelona had a foot and a half in the final after crushing Liverpool (3-0) in the first leg with a brace from a stellar Messi. At the Camp Nou, however, they were still throwing their hands to their heads with a one-on-one that Ousmane Dembele missed and that would have ended up deciding the tie. The trip to Anfield seemed like a formality. However, the Reds rebelled without Mohamed Salah or Roberto Firmino. A double from Divock Origi, substitute, and Wijnaldum sealed the 4-0 comeback win.

2017-18: Quarter-finals, Barcelona-Roma

The most unexpected, surely, of Messi’s eight recent knockouts in the Champions League. Perhaps Barcelona’s sin was to underestimate Roma and be confident after the 4-1 they took from Camp Nou. Edin Dzeko’s goal after six minutes in the second leg at the Olimpico gave Roma hope. In the end, goals by Daniele De Rossi from the penalty spot (’58) and Kostas Manolas (’82) made the Italians’ miracle come true. The 3-0 final score knocked Barcelona out of Europe on one of the darkets nights in their history. “The comeback against Barcelona was the best night of my career”, acknowledged then-Roma boss Eusebio di Francesco in MARCA.

2016-17: Quarter-finals, Juventus-Barcelona

This time there was no need to wait for the second leg. The tie was decided in the first leg. Juventus won 3-0 in Turin thanks to goals from Paulo Dybala (2) and Giorgio Chiellini. La Joya completed a truly outstanding performance.

2015-16: Quarter-finals, Barcelona-Atletico Madrid

It all started with Atletico. Barcelona won in the first leg (2-1) after a brace from Luis Suarez overturned Fernando Torres’ opening goal. The Calderon, however, passed sentence. Another brace, this time from Antoine Griezmann, completed the comeback (2-0) and knocked Barcelona out of Europe.

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