The Argentine star scored a superb goal against PSG on Wednesday, but despite an improved performance it was not enough for Ronald Koeman’s side.
It was a brilliant goal, and some way for Lionel Messi to bow out of the Champions League with Barcelona.
For this season, certainly. And maybe forever?
The Argentine forward launched a missile of a strike towards Keylor Navas’ net, the ball somehow seeming to pick up more speed and swerve as it approached its target, whipping into the top left corner.
That is the kind of effort it took to beat the Costa Rica international on Wednesday evening, as Navas did his Real Madrid roots proud with a sublime performance in the Paris Saint-Germain goal, denying Barca time and time again as they banged on his door, in search of a new miracle; a Remontada II.
It might have come, but when Messi stood over a penalty kick just before half-time, the goalkeeper parried his strike down the middle.
Barcelona had driven PSG deep into their own territory for much of the first half, but in the end could not get the goals they needed to overturn the 4-1 defeat at Camp Nou in the first leg, drawing 1-1 at Parc des Princes.
Ousmane Dembele missed a host of chances in the opening stages, and with better finishing he might have put his side ahead before Kylian Mbappe broke the deadlock.
Kylian Mbappe PSG 2021
The France forward ran amok in the Camp Nou, but did not have as much joy here, only able to slam home an extremely soft penalty to put Mauricio Pochettino’s side ahead.
Clement Lenglet, guilty of so many defensive mistakes this season, committed another, accidentally treading on Mauro Icardi’s foot. Clumsy, certainly, but something he should be penalised for? Referee Anthony Taylor was one of the few who thought so.
At the other end the English official waved away Sergino Dest’s appeal under similar circumstances, with Navas knocking him down before reaching the ball.
Messi levelled the game with his stunning goal after 37 minutes, his 19th from outside the area in the Champions League (behind only his old foe, Cristiano Ronaldo, on 20), and this was a strike more from the Portuguese’s wheelhouse: a brutal, powerful drive.
However, when Messi missed from the spot after Layvin Kurzawa had felled Antoine Griezmann inside the area, Barca’s confidence in achieving the impossible seemed to wane.
Griezmann was Barcelona’s weakest link in an attacking sense as he failed to threaten Navas’ goal. Dembele can be faulted for his finishing, but Griezmann’s vanishing act is far more damaging for the Catalans. He is become proficient at it.
If Messi does leave in the summer it may be Griezmann that profits, but ask any Barcelona fan and they will tell you they would happily leave the Frenchman stranded in Paris if they could keep their No.10.
The missed penalty took the wind out of Barca’s sails, and though they still controlled the second half, they no longer had PSG penned in, even if Navas was forced to make further fine stops to keep Sergio Busquets and Dembele at bay.
Barcelona scored three goals in seven minutes against PSG in 2017’s famous 6-1 comeback, but with no Luis Suarez and no Neymar – the injured Brazilian watched on from the stands as his current side progressed – they did not have enough firepower to put the hosts to the sword.
Ilaix Moriba and Trincao came on in the final stages, and along with Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Dembele, Oscar Mingueza, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and the absent Ansu Fati, will form part of Barcelona’s next project.
For now, whether Messi will join them is an unknown, as are the futures of Griezmann, Miralem Pjanic, Samuel Umtiti and co.
This is a team undergoing a great revolution, improving week by week. This performance was a great improvement on the first leg, even if they were not able to turn the tie around.
Ronald Koeman has changed system, and his new 3-4-3 formation allowed them to match-up more fairly with PSG, as well as keep Mbappe largely under wraps. He, too, is growing as a coach as he aims to impress new club president, Joan Laporta.
Unlike against Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich in previous years, Barcelona put up a fight. In the youngsters, there are green shoots growing at the club.
Will it be enough to persuade Messi to stay? His quick exit at full-time suggested that he did not want to be seen dwelling on the result in front of the watching world.
He has a lot of thinking to do away from the pitch in the weeks and months to come. His decision will define Barcelona’s future.