Non-stop action. Great goals. Controversies galore. Sensational passes. Unreal drama. European football rarely lacks for talking points after any given weekend of football, but with so much happening it can often be hard to focus on the biggest moments. ESPN India attempts to single out one moment from all the action across Europe's top 5 leagues (league action only) that lit up the weekend.
This weekend, we pick Lionel Messi's winner against Toulouse; a goal that helped PSG open up an eight point lead atop Ligue 1.
The edge of the Toulouse box is pure chaos. PSG have just played a corner short and everyone's in motion. The Toulouse players are rushing out, clearing the box; the PSG players going with them. The ball, meanwhile, is still out on PSG's left flank. Nuno Mendes runs with it for a bit before flicking it back to Carlos Soler. He in turn takes a touch and sweeps it infield to Hakimi Achraf. The free-ranging right back who finds himself on the left plays a quick one-two with Vitinha. By now almost everyone is on the edge of the box -- you can count them: six in the lovely white and purple of Toulouse, five in the deep blue of Paris.
While all this is happening, you can see a little man wearing #30 standing almost perfectly still in the middle, just off the D, watching all of it unfold with a detachment that could easily be mistaken for boredom. In the past it has; and for those who do not know him, he just looks completely disinterested in anything that's going on.
It's when Hakimi first receives the ball that he first starts moving... and that barely, taking a couple of slow, unhurried steps away from the general direction of the ball. Why he is going back, you wonder, as Hakimi motors on toward the Toulouse goal. There's a marker on him, and you can sense he's wondering the same thing... why is this man turning his back on the play?
Except, the back's never been turned. The eyes have never let the ball out of his sight.
When Hakimi gets the ball the second time from Vitinha's give-and-go, the little man suddenly shifts direction. His marker lets him go, after all the man's just broken into a little jog, what could he possibly do?
Hakimi weaves past three defenders before a smashing tackle stops him just as he's about to enter the penalty box.
By now, the little man's positioned himself bang in the middle -- and as the ball squirts free, he barely has to break his stride to meet it, right at the top of the D. A slight change of direction, and he's jogging onto it... and with his first touch leathering it into the far bottom corner. Leathering is probably the wrong word here -- that implies violence, but there's not a hint of violence here. It's more of a gentle caress; it's just the ball absolutely takes off.
Lionel Messi. Goal #796.
Best stats from the weekend: Harry Kane's record 267, Lionel Messi's 10 and 10, Cristiano Ronaldo's 499
If you pause it just when he strikes it, you can see the utter chaos that surrounds him. There are the four defenders Hakimi had attracted infield, into the D. There's Hakimi himself, bundling his way to the ball in a bid to recover it. There's young Hugo Ekitike running back and then suddenly putting the brakes on, hands up in the universal sign of "I ain't touching it, all yours mate". There are three other Toulouse defenders closing the ball down, and there's Danilo slightly off center. There's Marquinhos, behind everyone, but already throwing himself on to the floor, knowing what's coming, trying to not get in the way of the ball. There's so much happening in that one single frame. At the centre of it all, though, is the surreal calm of Messi.
It was an important goal too. PSG coming from 0-1 down to take the lead at 2-1: the final score. He may be 35, going on 36. He may have lost a yard or five of pace. But as he showed at the World Cup, as he's showing consistently in France (only Neymar has more G+A than him in the league), at the end of the day, the headline almost always reads: And Messi has won it for [insert team name].