A penny for Mikel Merino’s thoughts ahead of Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.
It’s been 424 days since he dribbled past Virgil van Dijk during Newcastle’s 2-0 defeat at the hands of Liverpool, a feat no Premier League opponent has managed since.
The midfielder has since moved to Real Sociedad, losing 2-1 against Barcelona in both La Liga meetings this season but helping to keep Messi off the scoresheet.
Merino would, in theory, be an ideal candidate to offer Messi a quiet word of advice about getting the better of Van Dijk.
But somehow you doubt Merino, a defensive-minded central midfielder, will be reaching out. If ever there was a player with the tools to reduce Van Dijk to Van Smalling it’s Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini.
The mere suggestion of a drop of that left shoulder has accounted for a Who’s Who of the world’s best defenders since Messi debuted in 2004. He is, putting it mildly, a hard man to pin down.
Just ask the recipient of the last two UEFA Best Defender awards, Sergio Ramos.
Ramos shipped five goals in six games against Messi during his two award-winning seasons, keeping a single clean sheet in the process.
But it’s not all bad news for Van Dijk. A strong showing against Messi would be another step in the Dutchman’s inevitable journey to being officially recognised as the world’s best defender.
By 2009 Messi was dominating European football, with 38 goals in all competitions seeing him pick up a first Ballon d’Or ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Xavi.
That 2008/09 campaign also brought Messi face to face with John Terry, who would go on to lift the UEFA Best Defender award at the end of the season.
On that occasion Terry came out on top in his personal battle against Messi. Terry stopped the Argentine from scoring in both legs of Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final defeat against Barcelona, although that will be scant consolation given the controversial circumstances of the loss.
The following season Messi would again lift the Ballon d’Or, scoring 47 goals in 53 games across all competitions.
He would again meet the recipient of the UEFA Best Defender award, Inter Milan right-back Maicon- a goalless group stage battle between the pair setting the tone for their clashes during the season.
Messi failed to score in either leg of Barcelona’s 3-2 Champions League semi-final defeat to Inter, with Maicon going on to lift the trophy after a 2-0 win against Bayern Munich.
The UEFA Best Defender Award took a hiatus between Maicon lifting the honour in 2010 and Sergio Ramos picking it up in 2016, in which time Messi added a further two Ballon d’Ors to his CV.
Now it’s back up and running Van Dijk should follow Ramos and Maicon, as well as Terry, Jaap Stam, Roberto Carlos, Paolo Maldini, Carles Puyol, Ricardo Carvalho, Roberto Ayala and Fernando Hierro, in having his name etched on the award.
Shutting out Messi would remove any of the doubt.
READ MORE FROM THE WORLD OF DREAM TEAM:
- Liverpool’s full-backs have been brilliant but Jordi Alba is the king of his realm
- Mo Salah’s awards snub proves he’s the latest to suffer from Messi syndrome™
- Lionel Messi is also the greatest substitute in this history of the game
- Virgil van Dijk’s former team-mates discuss the Dutchman’s early years at FC Groningen