What a year this is turning out to be for Lionel Messi! After missing two months out early in the season due to an injury, the five times Ballon d'Or winner is back to his very best and destroying opponents for fun.
With 16 goals in La Liga, he is soon catching up in the race for the Pichichi. Teammate Luis Suárez currently leads the chart with 25 strikes whereas arch rival Cristiano Ronaldo is second with 22 goals, having played every minute of La Liga so far.
Seven league titles, four Champions League, three Spanish Cups, three Club World Cups, and five Ballon d'Ors may be more than what even most clubs ever dream of, but the Argentine is not satisfied with his achievements yet. La Pulga has been the most prolific member of Barca for the past eight seasons, with 30+ goal contributions each year. On top of that, he is also the all-time top assister in Spain and is closing in the Champions League record as well. A very fine example of a man who creates his own destiny.
Messi is one of the top minds in football of the present era. The No.10 is tremendously creative, has an amazing skill set that forces even the best defenders to panic. His ability to hold on to the ball, dribble past opponents or to give a through ball to a team mate are unrivalled at present. His mere 170cm in height would seem like a disadvantage in a game that boasts of huge defenders, but Messi isn't bothered by it. Be it Matt Hummels, Sergio Ramos, Jerome Boateng or Vincent Kompany, all have tried to stop La Pulga and failed.
With eight Man of the Match awards in La Liga to date, his importance to this season's team must highlighted. Leo has produced the goods time and time again to strike decisive blows against the likes of Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and Malaga.
When Barcelona visited Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, there were lots of talk in the London media as to how Messi had failed to score against Peter Cech on previous occasions. To put to rest such claims, Messi produced a masterclass to score a brace and go into the second leg at the Nou Camp with a two-goal advantage. Critics will always find a way to try to belittle the Argentine genius, but he always manages to shut their mouth in style.
One of Messi's most unheralded genius is his versatility, his ability to blend in any roles he is asked to perform. Last season, he regularly played a diagonal pass from the right wing for his team mated to pounce upon. Ivan Rakitic scored one against Manchester City, Neymar followed suit against PSG. On top of that, Messi regularly cut in from the wings giving fits to the defenders.
The present season, however, has often seen Messi in a new position. With Xavi gone, Messi has stepped into his shoes and assumed a more advanced midfield role. He has played that role with aplomb and Barcelona currently enjoy a 35-game unbeaten streak and are favourites to win the Treble once again. The team is now more dominant and have been able to strike back even after being a goal or two down, something which was missing even during the Pep years.
When Messi stepped up to take the free kick against Sevilla, he was tied with Ronaldinho Gaucho for the number of direct free kicks scored in the Spanish La Liga. He then hit the top right corner for his 6th free kick of the season and 16th overall thereby moving one ahead of his former mentor. The deadly precision with which Messi has been taking the free kicks was recently studied by the University of Barcelona. According to them, the slight bend in Messi's foot that he does just before shooting may be the reason for the precise strikes.
Apart from being the free-kick king this season, Messi also has improved in his defensive aspect. The No.10 has been tracking back and tackling in the big matches as witnessed against Arsenal and Atlético Madrid. His new focus seems to be reserved for the top teams and, with Luis Suárez in the form of his life, teams have been unable to cope up with the pressure from the Barca frontline.
Messi is the prime example of the perfect footballer. Ever humble and never failing to acknowledge his teammates' contributions, Messi clearly is the greatest footballer of all times. With both his feet set firmly in the ground, he is an inspiration to millions around the globe and continues setting new benchmarks each year.
If La Pulga's current form is anything to go by, another Ballon d'Or will be added to his already bulging cabinet come January 2017.