Lionel Messi’s phenomenal form for Barcelona has seen his team shoot up into the reckoning for the Liga title, and may even have reignited his love for the club.
The star forward is out of contract this summer, and there will be no shortage of suitors for him. A reunion with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City is the move Premier League fans will want to see, but will he simply stay put at the Nou Camp?
Heading into Saturday’s El Clasico with Real Madrid, Barca are a point off leaders Atletico Madrid, with their last league defeat coming in the shock loss to Cadiz at the beginning of December.
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Before the 1-0 win over Villarreal, Messi was on a 16 game run of either scoring or providing an assist, and he’s scored 12 goals in his last 11 matches in all competitions.
Messi will be hoping to end a run of no goals in his last five Clasico matches
Image credit: Getty Images
So, is Messi in the form of his life? It is probably the best he has played in the past few seasons. The captain is only three goals short of the 32 he scored for club and country in the previous campaign, though he did get 56 the season before that, and 49 a season previous.
It might be that he is now truly leading from the front, acting as a role model for the next generation. As Messi gets older, so does his influence on and off the pitch, symbolised in the recent presidential election which saw Joan Laporta retake the role. Messi was the pawn used by the candidates to win votes, with pledges to keep him at the club central to their campaign, even if that was not strictly something they could control.
The result, though, has made the possibility greater that he could stay, and the dark mood around the club has lifted.
“Messi is just good no matter what or when, which is the reason for him being the best player in the world”, said Eurosport Spain’s Felix Martin.
I’m not sure if there’s any reason for this exceptional form, although he probably likes the way head coach Ronald Koeman works. And he’s happy about Laporta becoming Barca’s president.
Saturday’s latest encounter between two fierce rivals has a lot riding on it for the title. Real are in form, too, and the champions would go a point above Barca with victory at the Alfredo Di Stefano stadium.
That makes this fixture even more intriguing, and Martin says it is not just Messi who has stepped up for the Catalans recently.
“Messi is Barca’s rightful leader. But there are other players that have been performing really well”, said Martin.
“This is the case, for example, of Ousmane Dembele, as he has scored three goals in the last five matches. This is the same case for Griezmann, who has scored two goals in the last four matches.
I don’t think Messi has single-handedly shot Barca up the league. It is true that they struggled at the beginning of the season, but Griezmann, Dembele and Pedri have stepped up.
Even though it would make a whole lot easier for Real, even their boss Zinedine Zidane has urged Messi to stay at Barca, admitting his presence strengthens the Spanish league.
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But until he puts pen to paper, doubts will linger about whether he will stay at the Nou Camp. Ultimately, Eurosport Spain’s Adrian Garcia thinks he will - but it may depend on a number of factors.
“His relationship with Ronald Koeman is excellent,” he said.
“Leo trusts in his work with young players and how the Dutch coach has changed Barca’s style in the last few months.
“He’s super happy with young talents like Pedri, Ilaix Moriba, Oscar Mingueza and Riqui Puig.
There are also strong rumours in Mundo Deportivo, the official newspaper of Barcelona, that Neymar could return from Paris Saint-Germain. This would be crucial for Messi’s contract renewal.
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