Barcelona commenced their 2012/13 campaign on a bitter note as they lost their Spanish Supercup crown to rivals Real Madrid last August.
In total fashion, Tito Vilanova’s side responded with victory after victory in La Liga. They recorded the best-ever start in the league with 55 points from a possible 57 in 19 matches.
Barcelona went on to dominate in the Champions League until Bayern Munich slapped them with a humiliating 7-0 aggregate score line in the semi-finals of the competition.
Lionel Messi, rumoured to be only half-fit then, played the entire first-leg match. A momentous comeback was required for the Blaugrana.
However, at the surprise of the public, La Pulga started the second leg on the bench and eventually never came on as Bayern sealed their place in the final at Wembley. Months before, Barcelona also stumbled in their quest to defend their Spanish Cup title.
Subsequently, glory in La Liga is the only reward for the Catalans’ tremendous efforts this season.
At the centre of this success is Messi.
The Argentina international set a new record in 2013 by scoring in 21 consecutive league fixtures. Ahead of their last three matches, Barcelona have scored 107 goals – a whopping 43 per cent of which were scored by reigning Pichichi winner, Messi.
Last Sunday, the four-time Ballon d’Or champion failed to extend his goal scoring record to 22 games on the trot. Twenty minutes from time, the Barcelona No. 10 limped off the pitch. At that point Vilanova had already made three substitutions, meaning that Barcelona finished the match with 10 men.
A strike from Alexis Sanchez and an own goal by Gabi completed the new La Liga winners’ comeback after Radamel Falcao’s 51st-minute strike had put Atletico Madrid in front.
And as Barcelona are safe from harm since May 11 when they officially became 2012/13 Primera Division champions, the post-match focus inevitably turned to Messi’s fitness condition.
“He left the pitch because he was bothered in the same area [left hamstring] that has affected him recently," Vilanova told the press. "He felt a strange sensation.”
On Friday, Messi and his Barcelona team-mates will not be involved in the 2013 Copa del Rey final. They stumbled to a 4-2 aggregate result in the semi-finals - a tie that saw 19-year-old defender Raphael Varane score his first two goals for Real Madrid.
Los Blancos’ other two strikes were netted by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo in Catalonia. The Portuguese Np. 7 converted a spot-kick to make it 2-1 on aggregate before making the Camp Nou look half-empty with a second-half goal.
Jordi Alba got a consolation for Barcelona in the dying minutes of that second-leg encounter in which Messi was reportedly battling with flu.
The current Spanish Cup champions will see their title go to either Atletico Madrid or Real Madrid on May 17. Meanwhile, the Catalans are looking to equal Los Blancos’ 100-point tally in the Primera Division.
They hit 91 points thanks to their 2-1 win over Atletico last Sunday. Vilanova’s men need to win their last three matches to achieve that.
According to medical reports, they might have to do so without their talismanic player, Messi.
Naturally, La Pulga’s body is showing signs of weakness after last year’s individual 91-goal tally. Looking at the balance between collective titles and the Argentine’s efforts, can we say that Vilanova has overused Messi in the post-Guardiola era?
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