Since making his debut for Barcelona in October 2004, Lionel Messi has mesmerized fans across the globe with his unearthly skills on the pitch.
His individual performances have earned him four World Player of the Year awards (Ballon d’Or); and his leadership has directed Barcelona to three Champions League titles, two FIFA Club World Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, six Spanish Super Cups, two Copa del Reys and six La Liga titles.
Last season, Messi’s performances were heavily scrutinized by fans and the media as Barcelona sputtered through their domestic and European campaigns. Questions were asked about the Argentine’s work rate, commitment to the club and his relationship with his Brazilian teammates, Neymar.
Although Barcelona would eventually lose out on the league title to Atletico Madrid on the final day of the 2013-14 season, it was widely considered to be a sub-par year for Messi and the rest of the squad.
Fast forward to this season and Messi was once again at the center of controversy. Following a strong start to the season, the Argentine was involved with a training ground dust-up with his manager, Luis Enrique, in January. The new Barcelona boss elected to bench Messi for the club’s first game following the winter break against Real Sociedad at the Anoeta.
Barcelona would lose that match and Messi’s happiness at the club was once again being questioned by fans and the Spanish media. Rumors swirled that the forward had asked club president Josep Bartomeu to fire Enrique, with suggestions going so far to say that Messi had already hand-picked the manager’s replacement.
But the player publicly denied those claims ,and since that time has gone on to play some of the best football of his already spectacular career.
Barcelona have now won eleven straight matches in all competitions and have outscored their opponents, 37-8. During this run of games, the forward trio of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez have looked unstoppable – with the Argentine pulling the strings in Barcelona’s scintillating attack.
During this stretch, Messi has tallied 14 goals and 11 assists; adding to his season total which now stands at 42 goals and 21 assists in all competitions.
Today, against Levante, Messi topped off his 300th match at the club with a hat-trick and an assist during Barcelona’s 5-0 rout at the Camp Nou. The win keeps La Blaugrana on the heels of league leading Real Madrid with plenty of time remaining in the season – including another head-to-head match with their El Clasico rivals in March.
Earlier this year, it was Real Madrid that looked unstoppable as the reigning Copa del Rey and European champions claimed two more trophies (the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup) while winning 22-straight games in all competitions.
But despite their difficulties earlier this season, Barcelona have found a way to stay within striking distance of Madrid and now look to be gaining strength while Los Blancos appear to be struggling with adversity.
The gap between the two clubs is only a single point. But with a rejuvenated Messi firing in goals and setting up his teammates at a record pace, it’s Barcelona that look to be the favorites to wrestle back the La Liga title from Atletico Madrid.
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