On This Day: Lionel Messi Hits 600 Against Liverpool In Final Camp Nou Hurrah

It's been three years since the Argentine proved his GOAT status
09:00, 01 May 2022

Lionel Messi placed the ball on the Camp Nou turf, 35 yards out from Alisson’s goal. 98,000 people in the stands began their expectant routine. *Drum drum clap, drum drum clap* The Argentine had already got one on the night and was looking to stick a knife into the Reds in what was an enthralling Champions League semi-final. 

With one swift strike of his left-foot, he did exactly that. It was a free-kick so perfectly placed that he may as well have picked up the ball and walked to the goal with the ball in his hands. One of the best goalkeepers in the world, Alisson was left flailing, beaten by the sheer majesty of the strike, as the Catalonians worshipped their Messiah’s 600th Barcelona goal, and he returned their praise. 

Jurgen Klopp’s disbelieving grin on the touchline as the ball hits the net is one of the defining images of recent years, as another one of the great managers of our time was left stunned by the greatest of all time.

Given what unfolded at Anfield in the second leg, Barcelona’s first-leg destruction of Liverpool in 2019 is often forgotten -  a mere prelude to one of the greatest comebacks in Champions League history.  But this match, and the subsequent emotional relevance it holds deserves to be more than a footnote. 

This was Lionel Messi’s final Barcelona peak in front of an adoring Nou Camp crowd, and we didn’t even know it. This performance, and this result, should have led Messi to his fifth Champions League triumph - in fact, only Ousmane Dembele’s last second blunder prevented Barca from putting this tie out of reach. 

This semi-final was Messi at his tenacious best on the ball. Liverpool, despite having several chances of their own, could not do anything about the man with number 10 on his back, and alongside former Reds Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho, they caused havoc. 

It wasn’t his final season at the club, but it was a match in which collectively, almost everybody could agree he was the greatest player of his generation. His peak is higher than any other player’s in history, and on a night like this, you just wanted to watch him play forever. 

Yet, the subsequent decimation and decline of Barcelona is what makes this match so iconic. In truth, it was Messi’s last genuine chance at winning the Champions League. Barca had invested heavily in their squad but nobody could have predicted the turmoil the club would be catapulted into, which would result in a tearful exit for their greatest ever player. 

He scored 31 in 44 in the following season at his boyhood club, but it was the Covid-19 affected season that saw the lifeblood of the game, the fans, removed. In that season, an 8-2 humiliation by Bayern Munich, played in front of an empty stadium in Portugal, ended Messi’s Champions League hopes. 

In his final year at Barca, he scored 38 in 47 before winning the Copa America with Argentina, but their European hopes were dashed by Kylian Mbappe and PSG, his future employers. His last Champions League match for Barcelona at the Camp Nou, was a hollow affair, as Mbappe bagged a hat-trick in front of an eerily vacant stadium.

That’s not how anybody wanted Messi’s Barcelona chapter to end. He was meant to stay at the club until he could no longer walk, not be forced out by some financial mess from higher-ups that thought they could make La Liga bend to their will. 

Empty stadiums and tears would provide a sobering finish to Messi’s Barcelona love affair, but on this day in 2019, he showed the entire world - for the final time in a Barca shirt - why he is the greatest of all time.

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