It was the moment that European football had been waiting for – and one that Pep Guardiola knew was probably ‘unstoppable’.
Lionel Messi slid forward from the center line against Manchester City at Parc des Princes, played a one-two with Paris St-Germain teammate Kylian Mbappe and left goalkeeper Ederson rooted in place with a beautifully placed shot in the upper corner.
It was the first club goal in his entire career that had not been scored for Barcelona and sealed a 2-0 win for the team that recruited him mainly to lead them to Champions League glory.
The strike ended a 264-minute goalless streak for Messi since his summer transfer from Spain. Manager Mauricio Pochettino celebrated with a feeling of jubilation. Guardiola had seen Messi up close to know it was almost inevitable. Messi himself was left with a tremendous sense of relief.
“It’s true that I was getting desperate to score my first goal,” Messi told French television channel Canal Plus. “I hadn’t played a lot lately and had only played once here at home but I’m gradually settling into the team.
“The more we play together, the better our relationship will be. We all need to grow together, improve and keep giving our best. “
It took the 34-year-old Argentinian more than a month to play his first four games for his new club due to a lack of fitness, an international mission and then an injury.
He had failed to score in his first three matches for PSG – against Reims, Club Brugge and Lyon – after joining a free transfer this summer.
By his standards, it was a goal drought.
PSG boss Pochettino, Messi’s Argentinian compatriot, was delighted to see this come to an end. “Usually I don’t celebrate goals, I keep it to myself,” he said. “But today, for Messi, I did it.
“I’ve spent years watching Messi score goals from the opponent’s side – so this time scoring for my team is great. “
PSG’s much-publicized top trio Neymar, Mbappe and Messi – the two most expensive players of all time and the record six-time Ballon d’Or winner – showed some promising signs.
They played 44 passes between them in total, almost 10% of PSG’s total.
Former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, beaten by Messi and Barcelona in the 2009 and 2011 Champions League final, has been impressed by the Argentine.
“You see the pace, the strength, the balance and the technique to put him where he did it,” he said on BT Sport. “It was phenomenal.
“He was on the outskirts of the game, he’s at a new club and is fighting his way. Even superstars have to do it. You see the celebrations after the goal, it’s a relief. He is usually not as lively afterwards.
“We’ve waited and it’s worth the wait for what Messi has done tonight. “
Former United and City midfielder Owen Hargreaves said: “Messi is the man of the big opportunity. He still seems to score against Pep Guardiola’s teams. “
It was Messi’s seventh goal in five Champions League games against sides led by Guardiola – his former Barcelona boss. No other player has scored more often against Guardiola in the competition.
Former City midfielder Michael Brown was watching the game for BBC Radio 5 Live: “The headlines will be taken by Messi and that’s what we expect from the big man.
“He’s back and he’s with PSG. “
Guardiola won two Champions Leagues and three Spanish titles with Messi, but couldn’t ensure his side stopped one of the game’s greats.
“We know it’s impossible to control Leo for 90 minutes,” he said.
“He wasn’t very in contact with the ball – of course he was coming back from injury, he needed a little bit of rhythm – but we know very well when he can run and get close to the ball, he’s unstoppable . “
Messi happy to do the dirty work
Messi also drew attention because of his hard work in the game. Sixteen of his 60 touches were in his half. He won the ball over Riyad Mahrez at the edge of his own box to stop an attack from City.
Even his run to his goal – which was his only shot – started in his half of the field.
No PSG player had more successful passes (43) in the match.
But the moment – other than the goal – that really caught the eye was when he played the role of the draft exclusion for a Kevin de Bruyne free kick.
This is where a player lies on the floor behind the wall so that the shooter cannot shoot a low free kick. It was a role practically invented to defend Messi’s free kicks.
De Bruyne went high, rather than low, and his shot was saved.
“We couldn’t believe it. He’s one of the greatest of all time, ”said Hargreaves.
Ferdinand added: “The moment Mauricio Pochettino asked him to do it on the training ground, someone should have come in and said ‘no no no’.
“If I was on this team, I would say, ‘I’m going to lie down for you.’ Messi does not dirty his equipment! ”
“We did everything except score”
City entered the game in style after beating title rivals and European champions Chelsea 1-0 on Saturday.
They’ve had more chances – and better – than PSG, hitting the bar twice thanks to Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva in one fell swoop.
PSG goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma made seven saves against Ederson’s.
“We did everything except score,” Guardiola said. “They defended in depth and were dangerous with the counterattack. My biggest compliment to the team.
“The team was there – the same as Stamford Bridge. That’s a shame. We played to win. Unfortunately, they didn’t need much to score their goals.
“We are going to eat well tonight, have a glass of wine, recover and prepare for the Liverpool game on Sunday. “
The former City Brown midfielder added: “They created a lot of opportunities and I think Pep will say ‘this is football’ and he will take the positives.
“He knows it’s not do or die with the group stages. They have a great team and they will continue to improve. “
Former City defender Sylvain Distin said: “I think the intensity was there for City, they just didn’t take a chance.
“They had more than enough chances to win this game. “