Touted by many as the creme de la creme of their generation, Barcelona underlined their quality on Saturday night by registering their 16th straight league win, setting a new La Liga record in the process. Their 3-0 defeat of Atletico Madrid at the Camp Nou was punctuated by a stunning hat-trick from Lionel Messi.
After the game, manager Pep Guardiola lavished praise on his side before singling out the contribution of one player in particular – the mercurial Messi: “we
“All history’s great teams have had a special player and that’s what Messi is for us. We are very lucky to have him here when he’s still only 23. He’s so competitive and that makes us all competitive too. He’ll set his own objectives. We have to ensure he feels comfortable.”
Described by Atletico manager Quique Sanchez Flores after the game as “the Di Stefano of the 21st century”, Messi was quick to commend his team-mates for aiding his individual contribution, but also reflected on the bigger picture: “I’m proud that we have beaten the record set by Di Stefano’s Madrid – we have to enjoy that.”
Team-mate Andres Iniesta was also clear about who was the architect behind la Blaugrana’s continued success: “Messi never stops surprising me and it’s important that he feels ok, because the team really notices it too.”
It is not just his team-mates who notice his goal-scoring prowess. Saturday’s hat-trick was, astonishingly, his fourth of the season taking his tally to 24 league goals and a breath-taking 40 goals in just 33 games in all competitions. With a little over a third of the season still to play, it would take a brave man to bet against Messi bettering his best tally of 47 goals in a campaign, set last season in addition to breaking all manner of club and national scoring records.
Finally, Guardiola reflected on the significance of such a feat: “Getting 48 points from 48 has a lot of merit; this is a fantastic record because it’s 50 years since it was set”, he said. It is also difficult to see the run stopping at just 16 games. The next few league fixtures are certainly winnable and their momentum alone might even see them through tougher-looking ties against Valencia and Sevilla.
The biggest positive for this current crop is their age. Although key men like Xavi, Iniesta, Valdes and Puyol are all at the wrong end of the age spectrum, players like Messi, Busquets and even Ibrahim Afellay are at the beginning of their football journeys. With this in mind, Guardiola’s Barcelona could be setting the standard for the rest of Europe for years to come.