Not since Ronaldo way back in the 1996/97 season has anyone managed to reach the dizzy heights of a near half-century of goals in a single season. With nearly a month of the season still to play, Messi’s achievement in reaching the total last year could pale into insignificance. After suffering a mini-drought, by his standards, having not scored since the second leg of the Catalans’ Champions League tie against Arsenal, Barcelona’s No 10 looks set to break the record.
As all eyes now turn to the positively saliva-inducing clash with Real Madrid next weekend, one of the key battlegrounds for many pundits will be the effectiveness of Messi and his counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo. This season, the pair have made the art of scoring a goal appear as easy and as fundamental a part of their game as breathing would to a mere mortal. With their respective strikes at the weekend, they are both tied at the summit of the top-scorers chart with 29 goals each.
To gain a perspective on how prolific the pair have been for their respective clubs, one only has to take a look at the Pichichi table. In third place is Messi’s Barca team-mate David Villa. Having recently become Spain’s record international goal-scorer, Villa has scored just 17 goals domestically. The next man (and first player not from either Barcelona or Real) is Fernando Llorente of Athletic Bilbao who has 15. Interestingly, there is no other Real Madrid player in the top 10.
Messi and Ronaldo, however, play a slightly different role to most other strikers. Both Llorente and Villa are arguably archetypal goal-scorers: Llorente is a big, strong target man and Villa is the quick-witted goal poacher who always appears in the right place at the right time. Messi’s role in particular is slightly different: as part of a fluid front three, the Argentine can create goals just as easily as he can score himself. Crucially, one of the biggest factors in the pair having so much success is their ability to pull the proverbial rabbit from the hat, to do something special that creates a goal out of nothing. As a result, the pair have an assists tally almost as impressive as their goal totals.
For manager Pep Guardiola, all talk of the Classico is elementary at this stage as he looks to prepare for a tough task in the return leg of Barca’s Champions League quarter final tie with Shakhtar Donetsk. The Catalans take a 5-1 advantage to the Ukraine as they look to book their place in yet another European semi-final and perhaps another date with their all-white rivals.