LONDON • The best athletes in every sport give us a glimpse of something else, a remix of the usual physical laws.
On Wednesday, this sensation had an extra depth as Lionel Messi produced a performance for the ages.
He did so in a Barcelona team who were stretched at times, even as the genius at the other end was scoring twice, hitting the post two times and helping to make the other two goals in a 4-2 Champions League win over Tottenham.
More than ever, watching Barca felt like a game within a game, two planes of sporting reality intersecting.
In the game just below the surface, a team of high-class bolt-on parts and ageing links worked hard at keeping their passing and pressing game on track.
And, in the other game, the one layered over the top, Messi simply took the night away from everyone else, producing magical moments of control and vision, and swiping the Spurs defence aside like a cobweb round a window frame.
Teammate Jordi Alba could only reference Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann's recent comments that he was sitting at the same table as Messi for the year-end Ballon d'Or award, in response to the Argentinian talisman's latest masterclass at Wembley.
"Messi eats at his own table, he plays on another level from the rest," the defender told reporters.
AT THE TOP OF HIS GAME
Messi eats at his own table, he plays on another level from the rest. When Leo goes on a run, all the rest of us can do is grit our teeth. He is the best in the world.
JORDI ALBA, Barcelona defender, dismissing Antoine Griezmann who claimed that he is on the same level as Lionel Messi.
"When Leo goes on a run, all the rest of us can do is grit our teeth. He is the best in the world and he makes all of us a little bit better."
Ivan Rakitic, scorer of Barca's second, used the occasion to hit out last week's Best Fifa Football Awards event, where Real Madrid Luka Modric was named the men's Player of the Year, with Messi omitted from the three-man shortlist.
"Sometimes a player has a great season like Modric did, but we all know Messi is different," the Croatia midfielder said. Alba was even more scathing, adding: "For me, 'The Best' is a lie."
It did not take long for Messi's first law of physics to assert itself at Wembley, and that law that says the 31-year-old can basically make it up as he goes along.
With 90 seconds gone, his weight on his brilliant pass over the top of Kieran Trippier to Alba was perfect, enabling a cut-back to Philippe Coutinho, who drilled home.
Messi opened up Spurs again in the 28th minute, after his floated pass was chested down by Luis Suarez to Coutinho. The Brazilian hooked the ball back to Rakitic, who rifled a picture-perfect long-range volley in off the post.
The Barca skipper was not done turning the screw after the break as he took his tally to 105 Champions League goals, and his 22nd in 28 games against England's top six.
Harry Kane's 52nd-minute strike gave Tottenham renewed hope, but Messi had other ideas, making it 3-1 with a cool finish. Although Spurs were hoping for a grandstand finish after Erik Lamela's deflected 66th-minute goal, Messi calmly completed the job with his brace in added time.
Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino could only laud his compatriot, despite his side having a mountain to climb to reach the last 16 after losses in their opening two Group B fixtures. He said: "His average performance is this type of game."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN