These Are Actual Professional Players Messi Is Making Look Like Practice Cones Here

The incomparable Lionel Messi was at it again this past weekend, making Atletico Bilbao defenders look like Washington General–style accomplices in his showmanship en route to Barcelona’s first goal in a 2-2 draw on Saturday.

Take a look:

As Prison Mike said, he makes stuff like this look too easy.

Sidenote: There’s a clip of this floating around with beIN Sports’ Ray Hudson doing the commentary, and we gotta say, the former Miami Fusion and D.C. United coach may have jumped the shark when it comes to broadcasting Messi brilliance.

His way over-the-top response—with phrases like “he emasculates them individually, collectively!” and “he disperses his atoms to one side of his body…!”—actually detracts from the sensational action on display.

Tamp it down a bit, Ray. You’re getting in the way.

Soccer’s Version of Deep Blue vs Kasparov

Here’s Barcelona and Argentina legend Lionel Messi taking on a robot goalkeeper on a Japanese gameshow. He either shoots wide, hits the uprights or is denied in his first few attempts, but (and go ahead and scroll to roughly the 6:00 mark) after several shots he learns two ways to beat the evil machine.

The first is a world-class combination of pure power and deadly accuracy, as Messi blasts the ball to the upper left corner, where Robokeeper—as the infernal device is known—gets a “hand” on it, but cannot keep it out of the net.

The second is a more reliable and brilliant misdirection, as Messi sells the machine on a shot to the left corner but then rocks his attempt into the right corner. The split screen display shows this pretty vividly. Take a look:

For the record, Garry Kasparov defeated Deep Blue 4-2 in their first meeting. In the rematch a year and a half later, after the machine’s engineering had been altered by its legions of programmers, Deep Blue prevailed 3 1/2 to 2 1/2.

Brazil and Argentina Fill, Thoroughly Entertain, MetLife Stadium

Bruce Springsteen himself never rocked New Jersey so hard: South American giants Brazil and Argentina squared off in front of 81,994 fans at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford on Saturday and gave the fans an afternoon to remember.

Lionel Messi scored three goals—including a sensational 22-yard winner in the 84th minute—to lead the Albicelestes to a wild 4-3 victory, and make Pelé’s recent comments about Neymar—who was involved in two of Brazil’s goals—being better than Messi seem even more wishful than when they were first uttered.

Here is the hat-trick:

What a performance, and what a crowd. “He’s the best player in the world,” Brazil coach Mano Menezes told reporters afterward. “He received four balls and scored three goals.”

As for the New York–area crowd, they turned out in those numbers on a day when the third leg of the Triple Crown was being run at the Belmont, the Yankees were playing the Mets, the New Jersey Devils were fighting for their Stanley Cup lives (successfully, it turned out) against the LA Kings, and there were Euro 2012 games on TV, along with an NBA playoff Game 7.

Quote of the Day

Very rare—possibly even unprecedented—is the occasion that Argentine legend Diego Maradona is cast as the voice of reason.

But at a press conference in Dubai yesterday, he played the role surprisingly well when asked about Pelé’s recent comments that Lionel Messi is not as good as Brazilian wünderkind Neymar. His response:

“Maybe Neymar is the best player of the world, but only if we clarify that Messi is from another planet.”

If you’re scoring at home, that’s Maradona 1, Pelé 0.

H/T to the RefBaiter.

Lionel Messi Is Making the Great Pelé Nervous, and A Little Desperate

Global icon and almost unanimously recognized Greatest Player of All Time Pelé has made some slightly defensive comments recently regarding Argentine superstar Lionel Messi’s place in the soccer pantheon. But now he’s ratcheting up the player-hater quotient by several notches.

After Messi scored a hat-trick against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League in early March, the following comments from the legendary Brazilian came to light:

“When Messi has scored 1,283 goals and won three World Cups, then we will talk.

“People always ask me: ‘When is the new Pelé going to be born?’ Never. My father and mother closed down the factory.”

Now that Messi has racked up 61 goals for the season, including an incredible 24 in his last 13 games, the Old Master is at it again, only now his comments have veered from slightly defensive (yet justifiable) to desperate and hypocritical. At an event celebrating the centennial of his former club Santos, Pelé dropped the following pseudo-science (complete with a third-person flourish):

“There’s always this Maradona comparison, saying that he’s better than Pelé. Now some are saying that Messi is better than Pelé. Well, he has to be better than Neymar first, which he isn’t yet. He has more experience.”

The irony and hypocrisy of this statement lie in the fact that it embodies the very thing Pelé was criticizing in his remarks at the top: It’s too early to say that Messi is better than Pelé. Messi is only 24 and he has a lot of soccer ahead of him, and probably two more opportunities to shore up the “World Cup” portion of his résumé. If and when he does that, then, as Pelé put it, “we will talk.”

If that holds true for Messi vs Pele, then it goes double for Neymar—who’s only 20 and has never played in Europe or in a World Cup—vs Messi. Pelé knows that. But not only does he choose to ignore it, he also reverses the comparison, and the players’ standings, by saying Messi isn’t better than Neymar “yet.” As if Messi were the unproven, striving youngster and Neymar the one with 18 trophies and nearly 250 goals.

The comment is so off-base it’s actually made us feel a little sorry for the old (if ageless) guy. He’s starting to hurt his own cause now, and that’s unfortunate, because he does have a point, at least regarding his own legacy.

So here, let’s help him make it:

We enjoyed that double nutmeg at 2:51.

Lionel Messi Has 61 Goals this Season

He is the first player to top 60 goals in a first-rank European league since Bayern Munich’s Gerd Muller bagged 67 in 1972-73. He has 24 goals in his last 13 games, and he has 39 in La Liga, a total that leads the league and is one shy of the record set by Cristiano Ronaldo last season.

His 61st came in a 4-0 blowout of Getafe, a game in which he also had two assists. Highlights here:

As the RefBaiter noted, the passing on Messi’s goal “was just ridiculous.” Barcelona have closed the gap on Real Madrid and now sit just one point behind their first-place archrivals.

Another Day, Another Lionel Messi Golazo

Casual nutmeg followed by let’s-just-put-that-there chip to the far side netting:

Amazing. Does anyone wield a chip in the box like he does? Goalkeepers are defenseless against it.

That was against 12th-place Sevilla, and Barca won the game 2-0 to pull to within eight points of first-place Real Madrid, which tied Malaga 1-1. There are 11 games to play in La Liga.

Let Us Now Praise Leo Messi, Part XLVI

There’s not much left to say about the 24-year-old genius-in-residence at Barcelona, but the goalkeeper’s reaction on Goal No. 3 of yesterday’s five-goal outburst against Bayer Leverkusen does a pretty good job of summing him up.

Take a look at the keeper after he’s beaten by Messi’s casually brilliant chip for his third goal. We’re pretty sure the English translation for that is WTF:

Messi has 48 goals in 42 games this season, and 228 goals, 93 assists, and 18 trophies in his career. And again, he’s only 24.

Is he the best ever?

The current titleholder, Pelé, said the following when Le Monde asked him that question recently:

“When Messi has scored 1,283 goals and won three World Cups, then we will talk.

“People always ask me: ‘When is the new Pelé going to be born?’ Never. My father and mother closed down the factory.”

That is top-notch stuff from the legend. And he has a point. Messi’s heroics are fresh in the public’s mind and eyes, while Pelé’s case was stated decades ago. The public needs a reminder.

The one knock on Messi has been that he hasn’t done it on the international level, and there’s merit to the charge. But he did bag a hat-trick for Argentina on last Wednesday’s international fixture date, and he has at least six more years of his prime left.

Pelé’s title is safe for now, but maybe not for long.

Lionel Messi: Human Gyroscope

Thanks for the feedback on the inaugural, beta edition of Tracking Back, our podcast spinoff. We’re going to produce it every other week for the time being, and if all goes well and schedules allow, we’ll move to a weekly podcast.

One item we discussed in last week’s debut was the great Leo Messi and how he never dives. It’s true, and as we said on Tracking Back, it’s not just on principle that he always tries to stay on his feet after getting kicked, grabbed, hacked and hip-checked by defenders. He does it because his low center of gravity gives him superior balance and enables him to zip past, around and sometimes through opponents’ wild lunges.

Behold:

The game may be overpopulated by divers, floppers, and fakers, but Messi is not one of them. And if you had any lingering doubts that he is the best player on the planet, well, it’s hard to argue against the evidence on display above.

Monday Morning Re-Start: MLS History and Controversy, Premier League Shuffle

There was an attendance record in Seattle, more drama in the Magical Mystery Tour that is the Red Bulls’ 2011 season, and a new leader in the Premier League—but before we get to all that, let’s check out the latest piece of magic from Lionel Messi:

That was not too shabby. We’re pretty sure that first touch is a future first-ballot entry in the First Touch Hall of Fame.

We also found it amazing how three of the four defenders turned their attention away from Messi after he made the pass to Iniesta. It was kind of an out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to defending the best player in the world in your own 18.

While goals like that by Messi always get worldwide recognition, it’s not every week that Major League Soccer makes international waves, but Seattle Sounders FC did just that on Saturday night.

The three-year-old Pacific Northwest club pulled in 64,140 fans for goalkeeper Kasey Keller’s final regular-season home game (he’s retiring at the end of the year). It was the third-largest non-doubleheader crowd in league history, and the fourth-largest soccer crowd on the planet on Saturday night.

Only Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich drew larger crowds that night. Needless to say, Seattle—and their Cascadian brethren Portland and Vancouver—have been fantastic additions to the league.

French superstar Thierry Henry has also been, for the most part, a fantastic addition to MLS. He currently leads the Red Bulls in scoring with 14 goals—including several of the incredibly clutch variety—but he’s also shown flashes of surprising recklessness in his brief time with New York.

There have been several borderline incidents—blasting a dead ball off Kevin Hartman’s foot after a goal last season (injuring the keeper’s MCL in the process), love-tapping Adam Moffat in the back of the head just a little too hard earlier this season, and grabbing Nat Borchers by the throat last month.

Who knows whether moments like that were in referee Kevin Stott’s head on Saturday afternoon, but the official did not hesitate to show Henry a straight red for charging into Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza while the midfielder was on the ground in the 27th minute of New York’s pivotal visit to Livestrong Sporting Park.

Controversial? A poll on the league website was running about 50-50 this morning on the question of whether or not the ejection was deserved.

Judge for yourself:

Justified or not, the sending off turned the game, as shorthanded New York could not hold on for the next 63 minutes, and fell 2-0. They’ll be without Henry for Thursday night’s win-and-you’re-in season finale against Philadelphia at Red Bull Arena. Check out the rest of this week’s MLS action right here.

The Premier League didn’t have the drama (or the attendance high-water mark) of MLS, Week 31, but there were some big results that installed a new team at the top of the table.

Manchester United needed a late goal from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to salvage a 1-1 draw at Anfield, while Man City belted Aston Villa 4-1 to move into first place with a 7-0-1 record, two points clear of their intra-city rivals.

Among Yanks in England, Tim Howard went the full 90 against Chelsea and made two saves in Everton’s 3-1 loss; Clint Dempsey started and went the distance in Fulham’s 2-0 loss to Stoke City; and Brad Friedel made four saves for Tottenham but couldn’t keep out Shola Ameobi’s 85th-minute equalizer in a 2-2 draw with Newcastle.

How did the Premier League action affect your BPFL team? We’ll have a BPFL post for you in the coming days, from Our Man at the Valley, now that he has returned from Budokan, where, like Cheap Trick, he is absolutely massive.