Lionel Messi or Carlos Tevez, surely there is no comparison?
Messi continues to hog the limelight, deservedly so after that astonishing climax to the first leg of the Champions League semi-final in Barcelona last week.
Two deadly strikes in the space of 204 seconds that left Bayern Munich reeling were followed by the pass for Neymar to deliver the killer blow. It felt like the end of a bullfight against a tiring, bewildered victim.
“No system can stop Messi,” Pep Guardiola insisted afterwards, “and no coach.” The record books show that’s not quite the case, and it sounded a little like an excuse from a manager whose tactical gambles had been found out.
Nevertheless it confirmed Messi’s standing as one of the greatest matchwinners of all time and Bayern will be doing well if they can prevent him adding that to staggering record of 77 goals in 97 matches.
Saturday’s warm-up for the second leg, at home to Augsburg, might have been a chance to repair morale. Instead, it could hardly have gone worse.
Pepe Reina, standing in for Manuel Neuer, got himself sent off inside a quarter of an hour and Guardiola’s rotated side then had to struggle on before conceding 20 minutes from time.
Rotation was necessary given the injury list, but this was Bayern’s fourth defeat in a row, and the last time they scored was in the disastrous cup semi-final against Borussia Dortmund which began that run, when Arjen Robben was injured and they missed four consecutive penalties in the shoot-out.
Barcelona have been very careful not to underestimate the opposition. Wounded bulls can be dangerous.
An early goal for the home team would charge up the home crowd to believe in a miracle.
Yet in private, their three strikers must be licking their lips, with Messi looking forward to another joust with Cristiano Ronaldo in Berlin.
Assuming, that is, that their opponents in the final will be Spanish.
Real Madrid, with the away goal, will start as favourites tomorrow night. Juventus are the ‘outsiders’ in the last four, even though they have just won the league for the fourth year running. They had the luck of the draw in both the group and the knockout stages.
Yet Juventus have their own Argentinian goalscorer, and his form, together with the return of Paul Pogba, have made this second semi-final a lot closer.
Carlos Tévez’s goals against Malmo last September ended a Champions League drought stretching back to April 2009, or just over 1,000 minutes of playing time. He has now scored seven, more than in his previous five seasons in Europe.
In Serie A he has 20, just three short of his best-ever total for a season, set with Manchester City.
Serie A no longer has the world’s best defenders, but Tevez has regained his cutting edge and that old determination and brutal strength.
For the fans and his team-mates, he has become a talisman. When he staged his private mutiny at City three years ago, he seemed destined to leave Europe for good. Now Juventus are set to offer him another contract rather than see him return to Boca Juniors. Massimo Allegri has got him fired up.
“I have more freedom on the pitch, and I like it. Everthing has changed: tactics, management, everything,” said Tevez.
In the first leg in Turin, his shot made the opening goal and he scored the winner from the spot. A Madrid corner was cleared and suddenly there was Tevez sprinting from the centre circle until he was brought down by a desperate lunge from Dani Carvajal.
It was one of those pressure penalties, Madrid players delaying the kick and Iker Casillas jigging on the goal line. Tevez simply drilled it down the middle.
Madrid have reinforcements for this game, with Toni Kroos and probably Karim Benzema likely to feature. They are the stronger side, but they had to fight to come back from two down to scramble a draw against Valencia at the weekend, which has left their La Liga hopes on the brink.
Juventus, by contrast, have their title won again and were happy to rest almost everyone against Cagliari. Pogba is back after two months out with a hamstring injury, and Alvaro Morata has the taste of blood after scoring against his old club in the first leg. It could yet go to penalties.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved