It might well go down as the night that the Champions League baton was passed back from Cristiano Ronaldo to Lionel Messi.

The Portuguese had put his Juventus side into the lead against Ajax but, as we saw so often for Real Madrid, did little else in a game where the Dutch side were worthy winners.

With no Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Modric or Toni Kroos to bail him out this time, Ronaldo departed at the quarter-final stage for the first time in a decade.

Messi, on the other hand, took the fight to Manchester United. And won.

It’s quite incredible that, even now, after so many years of dominating at the very top of the European game, that the Argentinian is questioned as to whether he’s ‘still got it.’

His brace against the Red Devils were the 23rd and 24th goals against English opposition in Champions League 32 games. No player has more and only Ronaldo is in front of him for total goals.

But more than the goals, this was another big European night when the best player that the world of football has ever seen, stood tall. Again.

With Los Blancos casting their beady eyes over Paul Pogba and, it’s alleged, the Frenchman not averse to their advances, it was the perfect stage for the World Cup winner to prove his own worth.

The less said about his performance the better.

And therein is why Messi continues to stand alone. Cometh the hour, cometh the man and all that.

He ran the 90 minutes against United, and his first goal to set the Catalans on their way was entirely typical.

A nutmeg on Fred wasn’t for show, for the Brazilian simply barred the simplest route to goal. Why go around him when you can go through him?!

Without a look up to see where David De Gea had stationed himself, the Argentinian arrowed a low drive into the bottom corner.

The Spaniard was unfortunate to allow Messi’s second to squeeze under his body, but the pièce de résistance actually came at the end of the first half.

Beating Phil Jones to the ball, Messi turned away from the defender and showed him a clean pair of heels. A nutmeg on him followed as he twisted Jones inside and out before an inch-perfect cross found Sergi Roberto at the far post.

De Gea redeemed himself on that occasion, somehow keeping out the right-back’s goal-bound effort.

Messi continued to dictate the pace and rhythm in the second half and went close with an audacious overhead kick, involved in everything good that Barcelona tried on the night.

A night where his name was song long and loud.

Winning the Champions League isn’t a divine right, but if the gods align to deliver Messi his first as Barca captain, there are unlikely to be too many complaints.

Odds are correct at the time of posting

Join the discussion