Just when the world was starting to lose faith in Lionel Messi, the extraterrestrial Barcelona ace has over the last two weeks shown why he still remains the best soccer player on the planet despite a perceived dip in form.
At the rate at which Cristiano Ronaldo has been scoring this season, Messi is having to labor quite a bit to keep up with the Portuguese and Madrid forward.
Ronaldo is having a phenomenal year, in which he has so far notched up 58 goals and 19 assists in 56 outings, including a remarkable start to the 2014/15 season in which he currently has 23 league goals after 14 rounds of play, and 29 goals, 9 assists in 21 games in all competitions.
Ronaldo deserves Ballon d'Or crown
Based on these stats, and coupled with the fact that Ronaldo won the Champions League while shattering the season scoring record, he will undoubtedly be the deserving winner of the 2014 Ballon D’or.
Make no mistake about it though, Ronaldo may be having a statistical outlier of a season (as usual), but the diminutive Argentine and Barcelona ace Lionel Messi still remains the world’s best soccer player. Messi’s ‘out of form year’ is a statistical match for Ronaldo’s phenomenal year, with the Barcelona star notching up 55 goals and 26 assists in 63 games.
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Messi remains the master
For much of this season, many were quick to conclude that Messi had grown bored of the game, because of the huge statistical disparity between him and high flying Ronaldo, but many forget that Messi up until five games ago played an advanced playmaker role and excelled at it so much so that Cesc Fabregas was the only player that was statistically better.
It wasn’t the case of Messi not being able to deliver goals for his club, but now rather, he was responsible for creating chances and did so more than any single player in Europe’s top 5 leagues. A recent dip in form for Barcelona however, prompted Luis Enrique to shift Messi out to the right wing, and Messi has over the course of his time back on the right wing, Messi is showing the stat mongers that on his day, there is absolutely no player in the world who can match him. 3 hat tricks in his last 4 games, breaking 3 all-time records in the process are a testament to the genius that is Lionel Messi.
Messi never stopped performing
While the football community has been quick to note that Lionel Messi is back, the truth is he never left. Messi has been on otherworldly form all season long so far for Barcelona, putting in magical performances as the playmaker, performances that were often not capitalized on by teammates (much like with Argentina during the World Cup), and not credited enough due to the reduction of his previous statistical output.
This stat obsessed generation fails to realize that what separates Messi and Ronaldo isn’t who has the superior statistical prowess as I’m sure they could match each other blow for blow in that regard until retirement, but rather Messi remains the better player of the two because as Ronaldinho rightfully pointed out “Cristiano Ronaldo is a very complete player, but Messi is better because he has magic.”
This weekend was indicative of Ronaldinho’s musing, with Messi and Ronaldo both grabbing hat tricks for their respective clubs but Messi’s goals were the highlight of the week in La Liga as he scored two goals that were absolutely gorgeous but yet routine to Messi. His first goal came from absolutely nothing, curling a magnificent shot through a space in the defensive wall tight enough just for a soccer ball to fit in, and hitting the right bottom corner on a dime from outside the box.
Espanyol show was Messi's latest masterclass
His second goal went one better though, receiving a pass from Suarez at the edge of the box, and when it seemed like he might have overrun his first touch, Messi still managed to beat the defender to it, nutmeg the onrushing Espanyol man and hit a perfectly placed ball to the bottom right corner with his weaker foot.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that Buffon claimed “Cristiano Ronaldo will probably win [the Ballon D’or], and he deserves it, but then further stressed that “without prejudice, [he] thinks that the greatest player of all remains Messi, because when he's at 100 per cent he is sublime to watch.”
Should World Cup performances carry more weight?
For all talk of Messi’s decline, it is important to note that had Barcelona won La Liga against Atletico Madrid on match day 38 last season, there would be precious little separating Messi and Ronaldo heading into the Ballon D’or gala in January, seeing as they have been statistically equally good over the course of the year.
It could even be argued that had that been the case, Messi would be favorite for the prize due to the heavier weight of World Cup performances on the award than the Champions League. For a guy who is on a decline, Messi was essentially two games away from being the outright winner of the Ballon D’or; against Atletico Madrid in La Liga, and against Germany in the World Cup.
Arguments against him not being able to inspire his team to victory in those two games deserve a whole new article altogether, and are irrelevant for the point I am trying to make, but rather, that simple fact puts things into perspective.