To the casual observer, everything is as it usually is with Lionel Messi.
The Argentine has scored a goal every 109 minutes in La Liga, taking him to the top of the Pichichi charts ahead of a rejuvenated Karim Benzema.
With 14 goals in 18 league appearances the 32-year-old is comfortably on track to break the 25-goal mark for the 11th consecutive season, providing further ammunition for Messi stans in the relentless war with their Cristiano Ronaldo counterparts.
Ronaldo, for what it’s worth, ended a run of nine consecutive seasons scoring at least 25 goals when he netted just 21 times for Juventus in his first Serie A campaign last year.
Look a little closer, however, and you’ll see that all is not right on Planet Messi.
The anguished look he carries at the best of times has been decidedly more pained since the 78th minute of Barcelona’s 1-0 win against Granada on 19th January.
Three minutes earlier Messi had guided home a 14th league goal of the season with typical panache; a sweeping move culminating in an atypical right-footed finish.
Messi smelt blood, but three minutes later his attempt at doubling the lead with a curling effort from 18 yards out was thwarted by Granada goalkeeper Rui Silva. Cue a grimace and a high five from Sergio Busquets.
Another shot, three minutes before full time, was blocked.
It’s unlikely that those two late attempts would’ve concerned Messi as he left the pitch following the final whistle, especially with a vital three points in the race for La Liga secured thanks to his strike.
If they were- you never can be too sure with a perfectionist like Messi- they definitely would’ve been forgotten as he took the the field to take on Valencia six days later.
It took him just three minutes to get his first shot off, although Valencia were on hand to ensure it wasn’t a danger to Jaume Domenech’s goal. Next came a wild free-kick, blazed over the bar from 25 yards out.
His exasperation grew as fellow countryman Maxi Gomez scored twice for Valencia 2-0. By the end of the game Messi had registered 11 shots- three more than the entire Valencia squad- but not found the back of net.
Barcelona have since bounced back with consecutive wins. A 2-1 victory against Levante was followed up by a nervy 3-2 defeat of Real Betis, Quiqe Setien’s former employers, to close the gap on Real Madrid to three points.
Normal service resumed, aside from the fact that Messi wasn’t among the four goalscorers. In fact, since scoring against Granada, Messi has taken 27 shots without registering a goal. Going back further, the Argentine has just two goals in his last eight La Liga games.
Whisper it quietly, but it appears even the greatest attacker on the planet can experience a dry patch. Yet even when Messi is not at his best he’s still the best, as a hat-trick of assists against Betis proved.
In that sense, Messi’s dry patch is very Messi. He’s still deciding games, even when it looks like he isn’t at his best. How many times has Messi been written off after ambling round the pitch for 45 minutes, only to go through the gears and kill a game off with three strokes of his left foot?
He’ll be all too aware of the need to end his run, so don’t be surprised if there’s an extra spring in Messi’s walk during the first five minutes of Barcelona’s La Liga meeting with Getafe on Saturday.
Twenty-eighth time lucky? You wouldn’t bet against it.
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