Lionel Messi has established himself as the best player in the game today. The Argentinian has been named the World Player of the Year three years in a row and recently broke Barcelona's 60-year-old scoring record of 232 goals held by Cesar Rodriguez. And he did it in style with a hat trick against Granada at Camp Nou.
Oh and by the way, he's only 24.
While his career accolades certainly speak for themselves, he is having quite an individual 2011-2012 season as well. Messi has scored 56 goals in 49 appearances and he still has the remainder of the La Liga season, the Copa del Rey tournament and the UEFA Champions League to add on to his total.
Messi scored four goals in the Spanish and European Super Cup tournament, two in World Cup qualifying games for Argentina, 12 in the Champions League, two in the Copa del Rey tournament and 36 in La Liga matches.
With that being said, his success begs the question. How many more goals can Messi score before the end of the season?
I'm putting the Over/Under at 65.5 goals.
Messi has been on an absolute tear this season and is showing no signs of slowing down. He is going to see some stiffer competition as the season comes to end, especially in the Champions League. But Messi has also shown a tendency to rise up in big games for Barcelona. Only time will tell.
Helping Messi out has been three of the greatest passers in in La Liga history. The Spanish trio of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Cesc Fabregas has done wonders for Messi's scoring potential this season. You aren't going to find a team with better chemistry than Barcelona and Messi is one of the biggest beneficiaries.
Barcelona has eight remaining La Liga games and is currently six points behind Real Madrid for first place. This stretch is going to be very important for Barca, especially since one of those games is against Madrid. Messi has never been one for sitting out very many games, which means he will likely be seeing every minute of those last eight games. Barca will take on Getafe, Madrid, Malaga and Espanyol at Camp Nou and Real Zaragoza, Levante, Rayo Vallecano and Real Betis on the the road. Messi had a hat trick against Malaga and added two more against Betis earlier this season.
Barcelona also finds itself in the finals of the Copa del Rey tournament facing Athletic Bilbao. Messi has two goals in two games against Bilbao this season. Messi and every other Barca player was held scoreless in the Copa del Rey finals last year against Real Madrid as Barcelona lost 1-0 in overtime. We shall see what Messi has in store this time around against Bilbao.
As for the Champions League, the opportunities Messi will have are far less certain. Barcelona is currently in the quarterfinals against AC Milan. The first leg ended in a scoreless draw at San Siro and the second leg at Camp Nou will occur this Tuesday, April 3rd. Barca hasn't been incredibly consistent on the road but they have been stellar at home.
The Catalan giants have yet to concede a game at the Nou Camp this season and by the way that they dominated play in Milan despite not scoring, it would certainly be an upset if Barca didn't come out with a victory. Assuming Barca gets the job done against AC Milan, they will then move on to the semifinals where there is another guaranteed two more games for Messi to tack on a couple more goals.
As mentioned earlier, Messi is going to be facing stiffer competition in the Champions League as the tournament goes on. This means it is likely he won't be able to repeat his record-setting five-goal performance against Bayer Leverkusen in the Round of 16. Their longtime rival, Real Madrid, already has a 3-0 aggregate lead in the quarterfinals and Germany's Bayern Munich has been dominant in the knockout round, conceding only one goal in its last three games.
Nevertheless, Barcelona is the defending champion and they will be a tough out to say the least. The bottom line is that Messi will have one more guaranteed Champions League match and will likely score a couple more goals.
Messi's success is a tribute to his individual achievement as well as the accomplishments of his teammates. Fifty-six goals puts him up there with some of the all-time greats and he has plenty of time to do some more damage.