Football

Ferdinand: Messi plays in slow motion

Ferdinand leads the tributes as Barca legend finally scores against Chelsea

English football pundits Steven Gerrard, Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand paid tribute to Lionel Messi after he ended his long goalless streak against Chelsea yesterday morning (Singapore time).

The Argentinian had to wait 12 years and endure a goal drought of eight games against the Blues, but he finally broke his duck during the 1-1 Champions League last-16, first-leg draw at Stamford Bridge.

After Messi's goal, former Liverpool and England midfielder Gerrard said he felt privileged to be in the same venue as the Barca legend.

He said on BT Sport: "His first touch, his movement, the space he finds in the little pockets...

"He's a one-off and it was just great to be in the same stadium as him."

His former England teammate Ferdinand opined that because of Messi's brilliance, time just seems to slow down for him on the football pitch.

The former Manchester United defender said on BT Sport: "I feel that in his own eyes, the game just slows down for him.

"He plays in slow motion because the game comes too easily and naturally to him.

"Everyone is fast and erratic when the ball comes into the box... but he knows the goalkeeper's going that way, so he goes the other and he ends up making Thibaut Courtois look silly."

Lineker, who himself once played for Barcelona, added: "It's almost as though he stands above the field.

"Like we are up here (in the BT studio)... it's unbelievable."

The last time Barca played Chelsea, in a Champions League semi-final in 2012, Messi whacked a penalty against the bar which allowed the London side to claw their way back to an unlikely win at the Nou Camp, Reuters reported.

The diminutive attacker atoned for that yesterday, giving Barcelona a precious away goal as he strode onto a pass from Andres Iniesta in the 75th minute and calmly side-footed the ball home to cancel out Willian's opener for Chelsea 13 minutes earlier.

"For us, he is the best player in the world. He's not just any player," Barca midfielder Ivan Rakitic said of Messi, who has now scored 98 Champions League goals to his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo's 116.

"We have a lot of faith in him.

"We know that what we need to do is free him up as much as possible.

"And it's not easy for him, he gets so little space, it's hard for him."

Yesterday was the ninth time that Messi had faced Chelsea, a run of games stretching back to 2006 when the sides met in the Champions League last 16.

That kicked off a series of often epic encounters between the teams in the following six years.

Yet, even during the 2011/12 season, when Messi scored 73 goals for Barcelona, he failed to find the net in the two games he played against the Londoners.

Despite his record against Chelsea, and the approach of his 31st birthday in June, he looked like Barcelona's most likely route to goal at Stamford Bridge, finding space in Chelsea's otherwise disciplined defence and linking up dangerously with Iniesta on several occasions before the pair worked the equaliser.

"We see that so often from him, either with his scoring or his passing for goals," said Barca defender Samuel Umtiti .

"In the big matches, he makes his mark."

Messi's strike partner Suarez, meanwhile, lauded the Argentinian's intelligence.

He told Spanish newspaper Marca: "I didn't feel alone up front. In these kind of games you have to be intelligent and look for the best solution.

"Seeing that he could not create many situations of danger being close to me, he dropped a bit deeper to find spaces."

Football