Thibaut Courtois was looking for shreds of comfort on Thursday morning as he reflected on his performance at the Nou Camp it was probably best not to look at the player ratings in the Spanish press.
He gets zero in Marca (Messi was given three stars) and the accompanying verdict reads: ‘He’ll need to grow a third leg to face Messi. Nutmegged twice.’
Diario AS were kinder giving him one mark out of three and reserving their ‘had a stinker’ slot for Cesc Fabregas.
The fact that only superhuman Messi could have found a gap between Courtois’ leg twice with shots that travelled so fast he could do nothing about them serve as little consolation to Chelsea fans, and it will have lowered his standing at Madrid too because new recruits are often judged on how they fare against the old enemy.
Jose Mourinho famously landed the Real Madrid job, not with a powerpoint presentation or a persuasive agent but because he knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League when he was at Inter Milan. That’s when they knew he was their man.
So after Wednesday night’s performance, do they now think Courtois is NOT their man? Yes and no.
He has never been the first choice. President Florentino Perez always preferred David De Gea and continues to prefer De Gea. He was persuaded in 2015 to not pay €40m (£35m) for him and wait for him to run his contract down and arrive for free at the end of the following season and has regretted it ever since.
He regrets it because he let down De Gea and he regrets it because De Gea then signed a new deal with United and will now cost €100m (£89m).
With Madrid furiously saving up for Neymar, do they really want to spend so much on a keeper?
Courtois has always been the favoured alternative. He was brilliant in his three years at Atletico Madrid but it’s true that his form has dropped this season and he had no answer to Messi at the Nou Camp.
By the time he had made the kind of save that would have excited Perez and Real Madrid fans on Wednesday there were only three minutes left, the game was over and Chelsea were being ushered off the Champions League stage.
When he tipped Paulinho’s late header over his bar it was reminder of the reflex saves he made all the time for Atletico but it was the nutmegs, or tunnels as they are called in Spain, that will be the lasting memory of his performance at the Nou Camp.
Madrid are looking at other alternatives too. Hajduk Split keeper Karlo Letica is another 6ft 7in giant and at 21-years-old he has already had his Marca front page with the club said to be interested in signing him.
Previous bids to sign 22-year-old Kepa Arrizabalaga from Athletic and 19-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma from Milan have shown that Madrid have not ruled out bringing in a very young keeper and giving Keylor Navas a couple more seasons while his understudy develops.
Courtois, at 25, would come to replace Navas if he arrives so much still depends on how the Costan Rican finishes the season. If he is not left holding another Champions League winners’ medal in May the consensus still seems to be that a new No 1 will arrive. Courtois remains a gettable and top quality option. He just becomes that little bit less sexy to the supporters after being exposed by Messi.
He was not the only Belgian to underwhelm. When Hazard trudged off on 82 minutes, the idea that he could ever be Chelsea’s Messi seemed more fanciful than ever.
But if Real Madrid fail to prise Neymar out of Paris this summer as still seems most likely, then Hazard’s below par performance wont stop him being a target.
The Madrid forward line still needs fresh faces. Hazard has not stopped being a player Zinedine Zidane wants to work with just because he could not match Messi.
If Neymar is to arrive in 2019 then Hazard could still be the starter before the main course comes the following season. Messi was the main course on Wednesday and Hazard wasn’t even on the menu, but that will have been forgotten by the end of the season.
Perez may also see things another way. Chelsea’s early exit and Hazard and Courtois’ part in it, ought to mean they come cheaper in July. Their value certainly hasn’t risen after playing out their Champions League campaign in the shadow of Messi.