The Argentine has been a consistent performer for the past decade, but his current version could well be his best. He has been a serious threat in front of goal and is a front-runner for the European golden boot with 32 goals. This accounts for 41 per cent of the total goals Barcelona have scored in the league this season.
This season is also panning out as a great one for Messi behind the dead ball. He has scored from six direct free-kicks in the league and once in the Champions League.
It’s interesting that despite these numbers, goal-scoring isn’t Messi’s best trait now. The current version of Messi is arguably the best playmaker in the world. He has assisted 12 goals in the league this season and only Jadon Sancho (13) has assisted more in Europe. Also, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has created 31 big chances in the league this season, at least 10 more than any other player in the top five European leagues.
It’s worth noting that he has arrived at these numbers despite missing three weeks of football due to an elbow injury.
Clearly, there is no exaggeration in the claim that United’s defence have to be at their absolute best to stop Messi. Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw will have to bring out their A-game to keep the Argentine at bay. He should not be allowed an inch of space anywhere close to the final third and fouling him in vicinity to the goal could also be a risky move, given how well he has converted free-kicks in recent times.
It would not be wise to commit more men to manmark a single player too as it will leave spaces for Barcelona's other talented players. Messi is comfortable with pulling the strings from deep too. So, crowding him out might work against United as it would then create huge amounts of space in the final third for the other players to exploit.
United need to collectively immobilise Barcelona’s attack and not focus on Messi alone. They have been able to overcome an Kylian Mbappe-led attack against PSG, but will more of the same be enough against Barcelona?