By Manuel Traquete

In the last two La Liga matches where Messi featured (away at Espanyol and at Deportivo), Barcelona scored a combined nine goals. This doesn’t come as a surprise, considering the way Pep Guardiola’s Dream Team has been destroying almost every opponent since October. The surprise is that, out of these nine goals, Messi has only scored one—and from a free kick.

While this could suggest a momentary crisis, what’s happening is exactly the opposite: Lionel Messi has actually taken his game to (yet) another level. Out of these nine goals, he assisted five! This season in La Liga, he has recorded 15 appearances, scored 18 goals and assisted 12. This means that, on average, Lionel Messi creates two goals per match in La Liga.

His overall stats show 28 goals and 15 assists in 26 matches. Right now, not only is Messi scoring more than anyone else in the world, he’s also assisting more than every other player. He is as deadly a goal-scorer as he’s always been, while perfecting his playmaking skills. Besides his goals and assists, Messi is always involved in the game, and we often see him get the ball deep and exchange some passes in midfield.

It was not always like that, but this is a testament to Messi’s tremendous evolution as a player. Being at the top has only made Messi work harder, and at only 23, he can claim to be one of the most complete players in football history. There’s no midfield/attack position that Messi isn’t effective at.

Being this great at such a young age, the sky is the limit for Lionel Messi; however, the lack of obstacles might turn out to be his main obstacle: you just have to remember Ronaldinho, whose motivation to play football seems to have vanished right when he dominated world football, well ahead of all his peers.

The same happens with Messi now: At 23, he has no rival in the current generation of footballers, and he’s pretty much won everything he could possibly win, both collectively and individually. Unlike Ronaldinho, though, Messi seems determined to keep writing his own legend.

A product of the Barcelona Academy, Messi is more motivated than ever to lead Barcelona to more and more titles. It’s also well-known that he dreams of winning the World Cup with Argentina. In 2014, he’ll be 27 and (presumably) at the peak of his career; if he keeps improving all aspects of his game as he has been, he’ll be ready to try and lead Argentina to World Cup glory.

It’s also very interesting that Messi’s goal at the Riazor came from a perfectly executed free kick. Free kicks used to be one of the aspects where Messi was “not-so-good,” which his detractors were always quick to point out. They were (are?) particularly poor especially in comparison to Maradona’s. El Diego is probably the best free-kick taker of all time and Lionel Messi hasn’t scored more than a few free-kick goals in his career.

Having identified this “weakness” in his game, Messi has undoubtedly worked to correct it and, in the past year, his free kicks have been improving a lot. Granted, he’ll probably never be as deadly a free-kick taker as Maradona, or even as Juninho Pernanbucano, arguably the best free-kick taker of the present generation, but he’s become undoubtedly a great threat from set pieces as well.

At the rate Messi’s skills have been evolving, there’s no telling just how much he can achieve during the rest of his career. The sky is the limit for the Argentine genius.

Messi’s brilliance has somewhat overshadowed that of his teammate Andrés Iniesta, who’s having an absolutely brilliant season as well and was fantastic today again. The Spaniard is a brilliant player, and he’ll probably receive the FIFA Ballon d’Or award on Monday, but he’d be the first to admit that Lionel Messi is just on another level.

Messi’s the type of player who only appears once in a generation; after all, how many players in modern football have managed to both score and assist more than all their peers?

The recent Clásico was a perfect example of Messi’s constant evolution as a player. Despite not scoring, he had an huge impact during the full 90 minutes, highlighted by his two brilliant assists to David Villa. As of today, there’s no way to really define Messi’s role. Winger? Striker? Playmaker? He’s all this, and then some…Messi has the full package, which is why, as most pundits and football fans readily recognize, he’s destined for greatness.

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