When the Champions League last-16 draw took place in December, Paris Saint-Germain versus Manchester United looked set to be the headline fixture.
However, a technical fault resulted in a re-draw, dashing hopes – at least at this stage – of seeing Lionel Messi take on Cristiano Ronaldo.
Instead, we get to take in Messi vs Real Madrid. All in all, it’s not a bad trade-off.
There are plenty of side stories to assess heading into Tuesday’s first leg in Paris. Will Neymar be back fit in time? What will Sergio Ramos think if he has to sit out the game injured? How about Kylian Mbappe going up against the side for whom he seems destined to sign at the end of the season?
Messi, though, is used to making headlines against Madrid, of course, and the Barcelona great will surely be relishing the chance to renew these particular hostilities.
Clasico rivalry reignited
It would be fair to say Messi has had something of a stuttering start to his PSG career, with the fearsome trio of the 34-year-old, Mbappe and Neymar having not quite clicked into full gear – indeed, the latter has missed a good chunk of the season through injury while Messi has had spells out and has also contracted COVID-19.
Messi netted 38 goals and contributed 12 assists in 47 games in his final season at Barcelona, striking every 110 minutes on average.
So far at PSG, he has only scored two Ligue 1 goals (one every 536 minutes), while his shot conversion rate is a measly 3.9 per cent from 51 attempts in total. His other five strikes have all come in the Champions League, at a rate of one every 90 minutes.
The Argentina star has provided seven assists from 44 chances created in the French top flight, with his creativity still evident even if he is playing in a slightly different role to that which he fulfilled in his final seasons at Barca.
But, what of Messi’s record against Madrid?
He scored 672 goals in 778 matches across all competitions for the Blaugrana, and 26 (roughly four per cent) of those came in Clasicos. Of his 266 assists, 13 were provided against Madrid.
In total, Messi has played 45 times against Los Blancos, accumulating 3,940 minutes, directly contributing to a goal every 101 minutes.
Messi has celebrated victory on 19 occasions, tasted defeat 15 times and scored two hat-tricks. However, he failed to find the net in any of his final five Clasico appearances.
One of Messi’s hat-tricks came in a thrilling Clasico in March 2014. With their title hopes on the line, Barca came from behind twice before finally prevailing 4-3 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Messi, then 26, assisted Andres Iniesta’s opener before scoring once from open play and twice from the penalty spot (indeed, Messi has converted all six of the penalties he has taken against Los Blancos) after Karim Benzema and Ronaldo had netted for Madrid.
His first hat-trick came in 2006-07 when, at the age of 19, he salvaged a 3-3 draw with an injury-time equaliser.
Other highlights include a stunning free-kick in the 2012 Supercopa de Espana, though it was ultimately fruitless as Madrid went on to claim victory. Later that year, Messi scored twice in a 2-2 draw, dispatching another wonderful free-kick, with Ronaldo grabbing both of Madrid’s goals as that rivalry headed into its peak years.
In 2008-09, Messi scored twice and set up another in a 6-2 rout of Madrid, one of Pep Guardiola’s finest moments as his Barca side stormed to six trophies in a year, while in 2010-11, Messi directly contributed to all five of the Blaugrana’s goals across two legs in a Supercopa triumph.
He scored a supreme solo goal in a 2-0 Champions League victory in April 2011, with Barca going on to win the trophy that season and six years later, Messi netted twice in a 3-2 victory in LaLiga.
His second, a dramatic winner with the final kick of the game, was his 500th Barca goal and resulted in one of the most famous celebrations of all time, with Messi holding up his shirt to taunt Madrid’s fans.
While the 2021-22 vintage of Messi has not yet hit – and indeed is unlikely ever to hit – the same heights of his Barca prime, Tuesday’s fixture is another chance for him to haunt Madrid