Manero

The Wrath of Messi

By: Alfonso Duro

FC Barcelona doesn’t want to lose their chance to make a very clear statement in their race for La Liga. Beating Real Madrid in El Clásico would do just that. Luis Enrique’s men have found their groove and, after some initial hiccups, they are playing some of the best football seen in Europe.

Neymar has finally stepped up and exploded into the player the more than 100 million euros paid for him signaled he would be, and Luis Suárez overcame his adaptation period and is as close as ever to the form he showed pre-biting incident at Liverpool last year, but it is Lionel Messi who is back to stealing headlines left and right.

The Argentine has turned the debate about his physical fitness and motivations at Barça around in record time, and now there’s no question about whether Messi is better than Ronaldo or not; the comparisons with Maradona or Pelé are back on the table for La Pulga.

MESSI DOESN’T PLAY AROUND. After 18 months spent being questioned, he has needed only 60 days to turn critics into believers, and arrives at El Clásico smelling blood on the Merengue side. Not that he needs to be in top shape to rule this kind of game, as he proved last season, but in his current version, La Pulga is the most dangerous player Real Madrid could face. He has scored 20 goals in the last 18 games in La Liga, surpassing Ronaldo, who was 13 goals ahead of the Argentine at the start of 2015, in their battle for the Pichichi trophy.

Another stellar performance from Messi and his teammates would clear any possible doubt fans may still have about the feasibility of FC Barcelona conquering it all this year, as they are on a straight path to win La Liga, have already qualified for the Copa del Rey final and will face PSG in the quarterfinals of the Champions League—a team they already beat in their initial phase group.

A WHITE DEBACLE. But Messi’s efforts may not be the only key for a Blaugrana victory in El Clásico. The truth is Ancelotti’s team has been disintegrating at an incredibly rapid speed during the first quarter of 2015, and there’s no saying how they will face up to such an important matchup against their all-time rival.

In just one week, Real Madrid lost the leader spot in La Liga, their dignity in the Champions League, and the team president had to come out to placate the rumors about Ancelotti’s sacking.

After a few-days truce, in which the team recovered key components of their lineup (Ramos and Modrić), fans expect one last go at the league in El Clásico. But things will have to change much from what we’ve seen in the last few games in order for the Merengues to truly have a chance at Camp Nou.

And that’s, of course, counting on the fact that Lionel Messi would have an off day, which seems highly unlikely.

LOGISTICS: Barcelona vs. Real Madrid, Sunday, March 22, 4pm, broadcast on beIN Sports

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.