The La Liga season resumes at the weekend following a brief winter break.
Barcelona will look to pick up from where they left off, Ernesto Valverde’s side currently on a four-match win streak and with a three-point lead at the top of the table.
They are closely followed by Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid while Sevilla are five points behind the leaders.
Yet if Lionel Messi can continue his remarkable form, it will be very hard for any of the chasing pack to catch up to Barcelona.
The 31-year-old has scored 15 goals and provided 10 assists in 15 league matches. His contribution to Barcelona’s season has been simply extraordinary.
With Messi playing at such a high level, and Ousmane Dembele and Luis Suarez contributing with seven and 11 goals respectively, Ernesto Valverde will be extremely confident of adding another La Liga title.
And what’s even more ominous for Barcelona’s rivals is that Messi will enter 2019 very fresh.
Barcelona's message to Messi
Pete Jenson of the Daily Mail has penned a detailed account of Messi’s winter break and two words sum it up: stress free.
According to Jenson, Barcelona delivered a strict message to Messi to not train during his week-and-a-half trip to his home in Rosario, Argentina.
Messi was told that “the most important thing was rest and complete disconnection”, Jenson writes.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner spends much of the summer break training. He has a small pitch in his back garden on the Costa Brava.
But the Blaugrana wanted him to dedicate this break to rest and recuperation, with the club chasing domestic and European glory.
That said, a football wasn’t too far away from Messi’s left foot. He had a teqball table set up in his garden and footage shows him playing with his eldest son, Thiago.
Messi is 31 now and it’s vitally important that he doesn’t suffer burnout.
Barcelona’s hopes of silverware depend on Messi and keeping him fresh for the latter part of the season is their number one priority.