He is the man for every occasion. Lionel Messi made the difference again for Barcelona on Saturday and ensured Luis Enrique’s side stay on top of La Liga ahead of next weekend’s Clasico at Camp Nou. And on this form, Real Madrid must be extremely concerned.
Madrid have failed to win any of their last three games, losing the last two and shipping four goals to unfancied Schalke in the Champions League on Tuesday. With Messi approaching the greatest goalscoring form of his career, Real’s rearguard is in for a severe test in next Sunday’s showdown in La Liga.
It was not a brilliant Barca on Saturday, but the league leaders did enough to claim all three points ahead of a week which sees them face Manchester City in the Champions League and then Madrid in the Clasico.
“It’s always good to be efficient,” Luis Enrique said afterwards. “You want to dominate in these games, but you also have to take your chances – and we did that.”
An experimental midfield made up of Ivan Rakitic, Rafinha and Sergi Roberto struggled to make much of an impression against Eibar’s deep-lying defensive line. But Messi, as usual, was inspirational and after making several superb runs from deep positions, he converted the penalty he had won himself after his shot had hit the hand of Borja Ekiza.
The Argentine has had his problems from the spot this term, but converted this one with aplomb and made sure of the win with a header from a corner in the second half. Not the typical Messi strike, but one which showed his impressive range when it comes to scoring goals.
“We work on all of that,” Luis Enrique said when asked about the somewhat surprising nature of the 27-year-old’s second goal. “The players are more and more convinced that they can hurt teams from dead balls.”
Back to his breathtaking best in overall play and goalscoring, Messi’s numbers in 2015 are now approaching the superb stats he achieved in his most prolific season – when he hit 73 in 60 games for the Catalan club in 2011-12.
The win will boost Barca ahead of the Clasico, but Messi’s fantastic form poses a significant danger to a misfring Madrid side – especially with the famous fixture taking place at Camp Nou.
Real coach Carlo Ancelotti has already confirmed captain Iker Casillas – at fault for three of Schalke’s goals – will start against Barca, but will hope his skipper performs much better than he did on Tuesday. He will have to.
In defence, meanwhile, Sergio Ramos returns from injury and should start the Clasico as well. But on this type of form, the whole team will have to be at their very best to stop an inspired Messi from running riot next Sunday.