One of the late Stephen Hawking’s last theories was that black holes might lead to alternate universes. After Wednesday night, Roman Abramovich might fund a Chelsea space programme to find one in which Lionel Messi does not exist.
Hawking’s death may have dominated the front pages on Thursday, but it was Messi who was king of the back.
The Barcelona man was the difference between an impressive Chelsea side and a place in the Champions League quarter-finals.
Lionel Messi (right) was sensational as Barcelona beat Chelsea 3-0 on Wednesday night
This was a performance that gives further credence to the idea that Messi, as lauded as Cristiano Ronaldo may be, is the finest player on the planet.
It was, in fact, the type of display that marks him out as a generational player, and arguably the greatest of all time.
From the off he was sensational. The problem with Messi, as Chelsea found out, is it is impossible to know where and when the danger will come.
He is the ultimate floater. Man marking him is a waste of a player, because he can be so quiet for the majority of a 90 minute game. Then, suddenly, over the course of five seconds, he can turn an encounter on its head.
Messi’s first major involvement came when he picked up the ball on the right hand side
He passed it into Ousmane Dembele, whose one-two didn’t come off — it reached Luis Suarez instead, but Messi’s movement meant he had already found a pocket of space
In the first two minutes there was little to suggest the impact he would soon make. There was a touch on the edge of the box. The diminutive Argentinian was mainly in the wide areas.
And then the moment came. He picked the ball up on the right and fed it into Ousmane Dembele.
Messi was immediately off the mark, making a brilliant run on the outside of the Chelsea defence on the assumption that Dembele would play a one-two with him.
That did not come off, but the ball ricocheted to Suarez, who knew to feed Messi in.
Even then it seemed an impossible angle for Messi to score from. Especially on his weaker right foot. The impossible becomes improbable where Messi is concerned, though, and a nutmeg later he had scored.
How could Chelsea have stopped him for the first? In reality, they could not. His movement was too good. The passing play was too good. And the shot, while benefiting from a slightly questionable attempt to save it from Thibaut Courtois, was essentially inch-perfect.
Messi picked the ball up on the right and somehow managed to score from a tight angle
The forward celebrates the opening goal during Wednesday night’s clash against Chelsea
Barcelona’s second also owed everything to Messi, but in a completely different sense.
This is what people picture when they imagine the 30-year-old at his absolute best.
It involved the sort of jinking run that leaves excellent defenders on the floor, pining after Messi and the ball like a forlorn war-time lover left on a station platform as the train pulls away.
The move stemmed from a Chelsea mistake, in the same butterfly effect sense that Messi’s display was caused by the invention of football. Cesc Fabregas flapped in midfield, passing the ball towards Andreas Christensen.
Messi clocked that the ball was took short and charged towards it. Even so, it was tough to see Christensen not reaching it first.
The second goal again stemmed from Messi — he capitalised on a Cesc Fabregas error
Messi managed to get a toe to the ball despite Andreas Christensen stretching to meet it
Messi managed to dance around the Danish defender and start a dash up the field
That was the case until Messi got a toe to it and managed to completely take the Dane out of the game. He leapt over Christensen as he fell to the floor.
Again, though, Cesar Azpilicueta looked the favourite to reach the resultant knock forward.
Not when Messi is charging. He took another brilliant touch to play it around Azpilicueta, dribbled to the edge of the box and then paused for just a moment.
That was enough for Dembele, undoubtedly on the periphery of his vision, to get to the edge of the area. And Messi’s perfectly weighted ball — which managed to completely take four Chelsea defenders out of the game — teed him up for the first goal of his Barcelona career.
He was closed down by Cesar Azpilicueta and the move forward might have ended there
But Messi took a perfect touch and managed to knock it around Azpilicueta before moving on
He checked back at the edge of the area and spotted Ousmane Dembele making a run
Messi’s pass took four Chelsea defenders out of the game and Dembele scored shortly after
It was the perfect assist for Dembele, who managed to score his first goal for Barcelona
The last goal speaks again for Messi’s ability to turn it on in seconds. Again, a loose pass in midfield fell to a Barcelona man.
But Messi was on the extremes of the game, well away from where any danger may bubble up.
His run soon changed that. Unmarked, he makes a move behind Luis Suarez, who knows his team-mate will be on the way.
The Uruguayan then feeds Messi, who has four Chelsea defenders ahead of him. The reality is that he should not then be able to score himself.
Individual brilliance or not, very few players on the planet would be able to do it all themselves from that position.
For Barcelona’s third goal, Messi started moving as soon as Luis Suarez received the ball
When he was played in, there were four Chelsea defenders between him and the goal
Messi managed to make them look foolish as he darted into the penalty area to score
None of the defenders could stop him on his individual charge, and he struck from the left
Messi is one of the few. He made every member of the Chelsea back-line look foolish, going around the outside of them before striking it low and beyond Courtois. The movement was brilliant. The dribbling was even better. And the finish was clinical.
The entire performance just spoke for the stillness and speed at which Messi operates. He can go from innocent amble to red-alert danger in half a second.
It’s why words struggle to sum up what he does. For much of a match, it is very little. But all you can remember are the times when he does it all.
Compared to the rest of football, he is an alien. Even if Chelsea do launch that space programme, and end up exploring the universe, they will struggle to find anyone better.
It is easy to ignore Messi when he floats around but hard to stop him when he gets going