One of the greatest icons in the history of the beautiful game, Argentine superstar, Lionel Messi, has been at the top of the football world for the past 9 years. His magical abilities have been felt by several football fans over the years. There are no words to describe the Barca wizard, that is why Arda Turan called the great footballer ‘a miracle from God’.
One thing that is quite amazing about the little magician is his incredible improvement; the way he surpasses himself every season. Just when you think that Leo is finished, he proves to you that he’s only just getting started.
Last season was a disappointing campaign for Messi and Barcelona. The Catalans were knocked out of the UEFA Champions League and also lost out on the La Liga title to bitter rivals Real Madrid, winning only the Copa del Rey.
Barca encountered more problems when Neymar left the club to sign for PSG in the last transfer window. But, nothing could be more painful than their humiliation at the hands of Real Madrid during the Supercopa de Espana matches, where Los Blancos defeated the Catalans, with an aggregate of 5-1
After all these happenings, the immediate future of the team looked glum and Barca seemed unlikely to compete. But, the Catalans have surprised everyone with an incredible start to the season, and currently sit comfortably on top of the La Liga table. Thanks to Lionel Messi, who has been at an unbelievable level since the beginning of the season.
The Argentine superstar has been in a scintillating form, scoring 15 goals in 14 appearances to keep Barca on top of the La Liga and the Champions League tables.
This incredible form has pushed many fans to start wondering why the Barca talisman has reached such an unbelievable level. Therefore, it is important we examine why the little genius has risen to such a fantastic height this season. Below are 5 reasons that motivated the Argentine icon to that level this season:
5 Reaction to humiliation at the hands of Real Madrid
Everyone knows what it means to lose an important rivalry match. The El Classico is the greatest football rivalry in history as two of Spanish giants battle it out on the pitch. The intensity of the El Classico is so high, that losing it can be likened to losing a cup final.
Lionel Messi and his teammates were humiliated by their arch-rivals, Real Madrid in the El Classico during the preseason. Los Blancos claimed the Supercopa de Espana by beating Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate and Messi could only watch in embarrassment as the Galacticos were crowned.
In fact, Cristiano Ronaldo made things worse for the Argentine when he pulled his shirt and hoisted it in front of the Barcelona fans in retaliation for what Leo did when the two teams last met.
After the match, reports suggested that Messi was really hurt and vowed to improve the team. In an Instagram post, the Argentine described the night as ‘f****d up’ but pledged to get up and continue going. He wrote:
“f****d up day but you have to get up and go. This is just the starting”
Since then, the Argentine has been invisible, tearing defences apart, scoring goals and organizing the team. He vowed to get and keep going and that is exactly what he has done as he rose up from the defeat quickly enough, to subsequently become the best player in La Liga, so far this season. In fact, it is just the beginnning!
4 Neymar’s absence
Barcelona encountered a very big problem during the last transfer window. Brazilian superstar, Neymar, departed the club for Paris Saint-Germain in a complicated deal. Despite the fact that Barca initially claimed the player was not for sale, the Catalans could eventually not avoid the deal, as the French team decided to pay the release clause in the player’s contract worth €222 million.
The major reason why the move has affected Barcelona, is that Neymar was one of the most influential figures in the squad at the time he left. This implies that the Brazilian essentially shared the workload with Messi.
After Neymar led Barca to history as the Catalans defeated Paris Saint Germain 6-1 in the UEFA Champions League during the previous season, many people started identifying Neymar as Barcelona’s future.
However, since the Brazilian departed, Lionel Messi recognized that he had to step up in order help the team. Leo reignited his role as the pioneer and took the responsibility as the key player in the squad with his brilliant displays.
The Argentine hasn’t disappointed with his performances, as his presence in the team is being greatly felt. With the champion playmaker stepping up, Barca is sitting comfortably at the top of the La Liga table and has almost qualified for the knock-out stages of the UEFA Champions League.
The Argentine has now scored 16 goals in just 17 matches (in all competitions) for the Blaugrana, this season.
3 The false 9 role
If you really know Lionel Messi, you will recognize his early days at Barcelona when the little magician was undergoing the tutorship of club legend and elite tactician, Pep Guardiola. Pep Guardiola is clearly the best tactician in the game currently, and the Spaniard worked closely with the Argentine superstar during their time together at Barcelona.
Under Guardiola, Messi operated as a false 9 for the first time in his career. Ahead of an El Classico match at the Santiago Bernabeu on May 2, 2009, Guardiola called Messi and summoned him to his office.
He told the 21-year-old: “Tomorrow in Madrid, I want you to start on the wing as usual. But the minute I give you a sign, I want you to move away from the midfielders and into the space I just showed you.”
As instructed, Leo operated as a false 9, moving forward, dropping deep in midfield, making dazzling runs and confusing defenders. That night, another version of Leo was seen as he made it really tough for the Madrid outfit, scoring 2 goals and assisting one in a 6-2 demolition of Los Blancos.
Ever since then, the false 9 role has been made popular by the Argentine, and is usually recognized as his best position on the pitch.
With Luis Suarez out of form and Barca having to play without wingers, new manager, Ernesto Valverde decided to try Messi in the false-9 role yet again, and yet again, it worked like magic.
The playmaker now drops deep down in midfield to help Barca’s middle-men, make dangerous runs and trouble defenders. Besides, he is constantly confusing opposing defenses as he drags opponents away in order to liberate his teammates.
That role has really helped Messi this term, and with 16 goals in 17 matches, he’s surely just getting started.
2 Ernesto Valverde’s Role
After spending 3 successful years at the Camp Nou, winning lots of trophies including a historic treble during the 2014/2015 session, Luis Enrique decided to quit the Catalan club by not signing another contract. Therefore, the Barcelona board decided to replace the Spaniard with former Athletic Bilbao head coach, Ernesto Valverde.
The signing of Valverde has brought nothing but fortune to Barcelona, as the tactician has done a great job in helping the team overcome a terrible preseason. Despite a humiliating loss to bitter rivals, Real Madrid in the Supercopa de Espana, Barca have bounced back and now sit atop the La Liga table.
The manager has also helped in getting the best out of the players, especially Lionel Messi.
Under Ernesto Valverde, Lionel Messi has been in an incredible form. The tactical adjustments made by the manager seem to favour the Argentine superstar. Messi was deployed into the false-9 role, having the privilege to roam about freely around the midfield and up front.
The manager’s decision to revive Barca’s high pressing system has favored the little wizard. Messi now tracks back in the center of the field to put pressure on the ball holder, win back the ball and exchange series of decent passes before making amazing runs that result in goals.
1 Cristiano Ronaldo’s dominance
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are by far the two greatest players in the world at the moment. They have created a duopoly, dominating the football world for the past 9 years. The two superstars have maintained a level that is quite superior to the level of others, scoring 30, 40 or 50+ goals every season.
Their individual performances have brought several comparisons between them as fans and journalists try to prove one is greater than the other. Before now, Lionel Messi has always had a slight edge over his Portuguese rival. This is because of the fact that the Argentine icon has more Ballon d’Or awards than the Real Madrid superstar.
However following Ronaldo’s brilliance in the recent season as he pretty much single-handedly led Real Madrid to the Champions League trophy as well as claiming their first La Liga title in 5 years, things have changed.
Lionel Messi recognizes that Cristiano Ronaldo could match his Ballon d’Or record this season, as the Portuguese sensation is the heavy favourite for the award this time around.
Therefore, the Argentine superstar was motivated and inspired to improve his game. This brought about the blistering performances we have seen as the Argentine has become unstoppable this term.
Moreover, There is no doubt that Messi and Ronaldo inspire each other. When the Real Madrid winger was asked about his competition with the Barca maestro back in 2015, he told France Football:
“I’m sure the competition between us is sufficient motivation and it’s the same for him too,”“It’s good for me, for him and for other players who are eager to improve themselves. That’s good for the world of football.”