BARCELONA • Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde knows exactly what Lionel Messi can do but was still in awe after his star striker scored a hat-trick in the 4-0 win over PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday.
Messi's first act as Barca captain was to pledge to bring the Champions League back to the Nou Camp and in the Group B opener he showed he meant business, notching a record eighth treble in Europe's elite club competition.
"Today he scored three goals but his first strike opened the game up. It was a magisterial free kick," Valverde said. "We have to pinch ourselves to remind us that we are living through a unique era."
The striker pierced a hole in the stubborn Dutch champions with an exquisite free kick in the first half, then produced two ruthless finishes from inside the area late on.
There was also a superb goal from the excellent Ousmane Dembele.
Even PSV coach Mark van Bommel lauded the five-time World Player of the Year, saying: "For me he is the best player in the world. It's strange to me he does not win the Ballon d'Or every single year."
Messi has four Champions League titles with Barca since his debut in 2004, the last of them coming in 2015.
But Barca have underachieved and failed to get beyond the last eight for the last three seasons while arch-rivals Real Madrid have won club football's most-coveted prize three years in a row.
Messi inherited the captain's armband after Andres Iniesta departed last June and made a pointed speech about his team's recent European failings last month, telling fans on the Nou Camp pitch: "I promise to do everything to bring that beautiful trophy back here."
Barca will face gruelling competition to win the trophy from the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Juventus and Real should they progress to the last 16. But fuelled by Messi's brilliance, they have already laid down a marker.
In Monaco, Atletico Madrid's French World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann also came in for praise from coach Diego Simeone, who was pleased with his team's "difficult" opening 2-1 Group A win.
SECOND TO NONE
For me he is the best player in the world. It's strange to me he does not win the Ballon d'Or every single year.
MARK VAN BOMMEL, PSV coach, on Lionel Messi's performance in Barca's 4-0 thrashing of the Dutch side.
The Spanish LaLiga club came from behind to beat the French Ligue 1 side, with star strikers Griezmann and Diego Costa leading the fightback.
Said Simeone: "Griezmann is growing every game. He's a decisive player. He did well in the right moments and his link-up with Costa was good."
His men fell behind against the run of play in the 18th minute when winger Samuel Grandsir forced the ball home in a goalmouth scramble.
But Costa ran onto a wonderful flick-on from Griezmann to fire a snap shot low and hard past onrushing Swiss stopper Diego Benaglio to level the scores on the half-hour.
Jose Maria Gimenez, remembered best for crying on the pitch when France beat Uruguay 2-0 in the World Cup quarter-finals, then headed home a corner in first-half stoppage time to take the wind out of Monaco's sails at a key moment.
In other matches on Tuesday, Borussia Dortmund defeated Club Brugge 1-0 in Group A, Galatasaray cruised past Lokomotiv Moscow 3-0 and Schalke drew 1-1 with Porto in Group D, while Red Star Belgrade fought to a 0-0 stalemate with Napoli in Group C.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS