Winner at Atleti, Suarez’s injury and transfer rumours

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  • The 2019-20 season has been slightly rocky for Barcelona so far, but Lionel Messi remains as consistent as ever.

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Modified 12 Jun 2020, 12:30 IST

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Lionel Messi celebrates at the Wanda Metropolitano

Unique circumstances may have seen LaLiga return in mid-June, but little else has changed in Spain’s top flight.

Barcelona again sit at the summit, led once more by Lionel Messi.

The Blaugrana are chasing a fifth title in six seasons, and Messi has been as influential as ever in their latest pursuit.

With the help of Opta data, we take a look at the Barca captain’s LaLiga campaign so far.

BY THE NUMBERS

Between the coronavirus pandemic and a couple of early-season muscle injuries, Messi has played just 22 times in the league this term, with one of those appearances coming from the bench.

But Messi remains the main man at Camp Nou, scoring a goal every 99.47 minutes for an outstanding 19 in total – comfortably the most of any player in the division.

The Argentina talisman seems certain to become the first player to win the Pichichi seven times, surpassing Telmo Zarra with whom he shares the existing record of six.

Messi’s team-mates have also again thrived thanks to his mercurial talents. His 55 chances created have generated 12 assists.

With 11 games remaining, the 32-year-old could yet match his career-best tally of 18 assists in a league season, set in 2010-11 and equalled in 2014-15.

SEASON HIGHLIGHTS

Few players in history have combined substance with style as effectively as Messi, and his trademark panache has been evident again in his exploits this term.

The forward endured a slow start to the campaign, scoring for the first time in LaLiga in October against Sevilla, but he quickly made up for lost time.

A stunning free-kick in the 78th minute of that match was the first of eight goals in five league games – including a hat-trick against Celta Vigo that featured two more glorious set-piece goals.

Perhaps the most important goal of Messi’s season came on December 1, when he traded passes with Luis Suarez and swept a fine finish past Jan Oblak for a late winner at Atletico Madrid.

Goals were initially harder to come by in 2020, but Messi’s third hat-trick in the league this term sent Barca top in late February. He hit four against Eibar.

AS IMPORTANT AS EVER?

The burden on Messi – and, to a slightly lesser extent, Suarez – has increased in recent years following Neymar’s 2017 departure, with Barca’s number 10 either scoring or assisting at least 45 per cent of their league goals in each season since.

The pre-season arrival of Antoine Griezmann should have aided the Blaugrana in this department, yet the World Cup winner is still to find his best form in Catalonia.

While no outfield player has started more league games for Barca than Griezmann this term, he has scored just eight times.

Injury to Suarez, who had 11 by January, did not help matters, but Messi responded with a vital winner against Granada the following week.

Messi’s 31st goal involvement of the campaign – making up 49.2 per cent of Barca’s 63 goals – saw Real Sociedad beaten by a late penalty on March 7 in the final game before the season was suspended and Suarez was able to return to fitness.

OFF-FIELD CONTROVERSIES

Messi’s continued achievements this season come against a rather unsettled backdrop. The one-club man has fought as many battles off the pitch as on it in 2020.

After head coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked in January, sporting director Eric Abidal bravely picked a fight with the squad – including former team-mate Messi – by suggesting players were not working hard enough for the dismissed boss.

Messi fired back and claimed Abidal was “dirtying” the team, with reports of discontent behind the scenes persisting ever since.

Indeed, the saga prompted speculation the Barca great could make the most of a contract clause and walk out on a free transfer, although that option has now reportedly expired.

Both Messi and Barca will surely now be keen to get back on the pitch and set things straight with another title triumph.

Published 12 Jun 2020, 12:30 IST

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