Are Barcelona, Lionel Messi on a revenge mission?
Lionel Messi was sensationally snubbed for both the UEFA and FIFA Best Player shortlists. Not considered one of the world's top three talents, the Barcelona maestro's absence is no longer news. What is interesting, however, is his reaction. No, he did not lambast the voters for what many perceive as an obvious injustice. Instead, the Argentine is answering any doubters in the way he knows best: with scintillating performances on the pitch.
It's still early days in the season, yet no one can doubt who is the world's top footballer at present. There is only one player with more than five La Liga goal contributions, scoring four and assisting two in four games, thereby helping Barca maintain a 100% start. There was only one player with a Champions League hat-trick in the opening round of matches, too.
Like Messi, Barcelona's success last campaign was overlooked due to European capitulation, suffering defeat to Roma in the last eight. However, comparable to Premier League winners Manchester City, Blaugrana dominated La Liga, coming up just a game short of making history as the latest invincibles.
Understandably, both Barcelona and Messi are on a new-found mission to set the record straight. They demand to be recognised for their true quality. As a team, Barca are on fire. No other side comes back to win from a losing position more often. When La Liga newbies Huesca went ahead in only the second minute at Camp Nou, some may have felt an upset on the cards. But Ernesto Valverde's men hit back almost instantly before going on to put eight past the opposition's hapless goalkeeper.
Then came the ultimate test at Real Sociedad. Anoeta has been a particularly difficult stadium for Barcelona in recent history. So after the visitors fell behind in the first half, it seemed like déjà vu. However, La Liga’s reigning champions refused to surrender. They clawed back to down Txuri-urdinak, 2-1.
Ask Real Madrid how difficult those kinds of games can be. Los Blancos only fashioned a draw away at Athletic Bilbao last Saturday. Losing 1-0 at the interval, they mustered an equalizer to share the spoils. Four matches in, Julen Lopetegui’s perfect league record is gone. Barca, meanwhile, are getting stronger.
Since winning the Champions League has become the true measure of success, the competition’s assumed added significance to Barcelona. The club’s talisman admitted claiming it this season is immensely important. Messi told Catalunya Radio:
"This year we (Barcelona) want the Champions League. We've been knocked out in the quarter-finals for the last three years and the last time was the worst of all because we arrived in Rome with a positive result in our favour. We have to win the competition... for the club, the team, the supporters. As we have such a spectacular squad, we can compete for that title."
Hitting four goals past PSV Eindhoven without reply in the opening game has put all others on notice. Blaugrana mean business. The lessons from last season have been taken to heart. Summer reinforcements were geared to strengthen. Factor in the recent form of both Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, Neymar’s presence won’t be missed at Camp Nou.
Yet, Messi remains Barca’s standout. Having failed to find peak form when matters most last campaign, he is in no mood to continue as a passenger.
Barcelona won’t take any team for granted. That’s bad news for both La Liga and the continent.