Lionel Messi returns to the Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday night but, for the first time in his illustrious career, he won’t be in Barcelona colours.
Paris Saint-Germain are in the Spanish capital for the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, holding a 1-0 lead from the first leg thanks to Kylian Mbappe’s goal.
But the France striker is a doubt after hurting his left foot in training this week, so the onus could fall more on Messi in the stadium of the fiercest rivals he has faced in his career.
Messi has enjoyed some of the greatest nights of his career at the Santiago Bernabeu and, as he prepares to make his return, Sportsmail reflects on those occasions he has proven to be the difference against Real Madrid.
Lionel Messi, pictured arriving in Madrid, returns to the Santiago Bernabeu with PSG tonight
APRIL 23, 2017 – Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona
Undoubtedly Messi’s best moment against Real Madrid. He scored an injury time winner, his 500th goal for Barcelona, and a strike that sent his side top of LaLiga.
Having slalomed through the centre of the Real defence to make the scores 1-1, it looked like Messi and Barca were destined to finish level after James Rodriguez struck in the 85th minute to cancel out a Barca goal through Ivan Rakitic.
But Messi had time to intervene, just, firing in from the edge of the area with seconds of added time remaining.
He celebrated by taking off his shirt and holding up the back of it to the Real fans, who were left looking at ‘Messi 10’, as if they needed reminding, to compound their misery.
In April 2017, Messi produced one of the most iconic displays of his career against Real Madrid
MAY 2, 2009 – Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona
Another historic fixture, this time for Pep Guardiola’s use of Messi as a false 9 to devastating effect.
Messi was told to sit deep between strikers Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry to confuse the Real centre-backs and create space for the two forwards to exploit with their pace.
It worked formidably. Henry scored twice, Messi scored twice and further goals from Carlos Puyol and Gerard Pique sealed a win for Guardiola’s side that is cemented into football history, not just Barcelona’s.
The false nine is now a widely recognised position and beds in intricately alongside wider attacking tactics but that day, it was something far less known.
Another iconic Messi display, back in 2009, saw him destroy Madrid playing in the false 9 role
April 27, 2011 – Real Madrid 0-2 Barcelona
A far less commanding win compared to the 6-2 but equally as important, if not more so, as Messi scored a double on Barcelona’s route to Champions League glory in 2010-11.
Coming up against a Madrid side managed by Jose Mourinho, Messi was given rough treatment from the likes of Sergio Ramos and Alvaro Arbeloa but the Argentine hero still came out on top with two late away goals.
The first strike saw him convert Ibrahim Afellay’s cross and the second was mesmeric, Messi running 30 yards with the ball before scoring.
Barcelona won the Champions League that season, sweeping Manchester United aside 3-1 at Wembley.
Messi put Madrid to the sword in the Champions League in 2011 with a tenacious display
March 23, 2013 – Real Madrid 3-4 Barcelona
A blistering Messi hat-trick stole the show in 2013 at the Bernabeu as Barcelona fought back in their bid to win LaLiga.
A Karim Benzema brace had overturned Andres Iniesta’s opener before Messi took matters into his own hands.
He equalised in the 42nd minute and then scored two penalties in the second half – the decisive one coming five minutes from the end – to haul his side to victory.
His treble saw him become LaLiga’s second highest-ever scorer and Barcelona went on to win the Spanish League with a stunning total of 100 points.
A brilliant Messi hat-trick in 2013 helped Barcelona win LaLiga at the expense of Madrid
April 21, 2021 – Real Madrid 2-1 Barcelona
It hasn’t always been high points for Messi as he produced a frustrating and uncharacteristically quiet display as Real edged their rivals 2-1 at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium in 2021.
With Real pushing for LaLiga glory and Barcelona adrift of the title race, the onus was on Messi’s men to deliver a blow to their rivals’ hope of silverware.
But Real were 2-0 up inside the first 30 minutes due to goals by Benzema and Toni Kroos.
Messi hit the crossbar almost inadvertently from a corner but was unable to inspire his side to a comeback, even when Oscar Mingueza pulled one back on the hour mark.
Months after this match, Messi bid a tearful farewell to the club he had been at since childhood and headed to the French capital.
And on Wednesday, a reprisal of his finest Barcelona form would not go amiss as PSG chase the one trophy they truly crave.
Messi’s last game against Real Madrid for Barcelona was a narrow defeat back in April 2021