To explain Barcelona’s capitulation at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain, you need only look at the influence of Lionel Messi.
The world’s greatest player was a shadow of himself at Parc des Princes on a night the Catalans will quickly want to forget.
Lacking in creativity and execution, struggling to find wriggle-room where usually he can bend and twist between defenders at will… this was unusually subdued from the Argentinian. And really, subdued is far too kind.
Messi didn’t have a single touch in the PSG penalty box. Not one. Whether that was a result of Barca’s attacking unit suffering collective brain freeze or the hosts’ backline coming up with the perfect gameplan doesn’t really matter. What matters is the stat.
Without their talisman dictating play, Barcelona are a fraction of the threat.
And Messi was nowhere near a dictatorship on Tuesday.
He won only 70 per cent of his duels – the same on the night as Luis Suarez – and completed just 28 passes all evening.
To provide a bit of context, his goalkeeper – Andre ter Stegen – made 30.
He lost the ball a whopping 18 times, only had one shot all night and exchanged passes with Suarez on just five occasions.
This was the World Cup finalist at his most impotent; at the end of the match he stood alone briefly in the Paris night, stunned, hands on hips. ‘What just happened?’
Well, Lionel, you were embarrassed. Embarrassed by a PSG manager in Unai Emery who had only beaten your side once in 23 attempts.
Embarrassed by a PSG winger named Angel di Maria who became the first man to score two goals from outside the box in the same Champions League game against Barca since 2004.
Embarrassed by a lack of defensive co-ordination and an absence of attacking forethought.
No team has ever come back from 4-0 down at the end of a first leg in this competition to progress; Barca have an almighty job on their hands when they entertain their French guests at the Nou Camp in early March.
To recover from this would be Luis Enrique’s greatest moment as a coach… if he doesn’t, he may not have all that long left in the hotseat.
In truth, he might not have all that long left whatever the result.
The Spanish papers railed on Enrique on Wednesday, hounding him for Barca’s defeat.
There is a growing sense that he cannot last in the role, particularly if Messi has a say in the direction of the team.
Messi, of course, is still to sign a new contract at the Nou Camp. He holds sway in Catalonia.
Enrique cannot risk leaving Barcelona with great midweek chasms without European fixtures in the spring but history says, loudly and clearly, that there is is next to no hope of a comeback.
Not after this Valentine’s Day massacre.