There’s little doubt that Lionel Messi is currently the best player in the world, but is he on course to become the best soccer player ever?
The diminutive Argentinean won the most recent Balloon d’Or, awarded to the world’s best player, and he is a frontrunner to take the award for a second straight time. His speed is unmatched, while his goal-scoring as of late has been astounding. In the past week alone, the 22-year-old winger scored seven goals.
He started the week off with a hat trick in the second half of Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Valencia last Sunday. Going into their midweek clash against VFB Stuttgart in the Champions League, Barcelona were level on aggregate 1-1. Messi initiated Barcelona’s incredible performance against Stuttgart as he scored the first goal, played a key part in teammate Pedro Ledesma’s goal and then scored once more in the 4-0 thrashing of the German club.
After Barca’s win, Stuttgart coach Christian Gross made a startling assessment, comparing Messi to Diego Maradona, one of the best players ever and the current national coach of the Argentina squad.
“They started coming at us so quickly, and we tried our best to stay with the pace,” Gross said. “[Messi] is the best player in the world. He’s a fantastic talent, and it’s incredible to think he’s only 22. We can now compare Messi with Maradona.”
As if his week couldn’t get any better, Messi had one final masterful performance left in him, and it may have been his finest of the season. Barcelona were away at Real Zaragoza, needing a win to keep pace with La Liga leaders, Real Madrid. Messi got Barcelona off to a firing start in the sixth minute when he headed a bullet past Zaragoza keeper Roberto Gago. Messi’s second goal was the goal of the match. He bounced off a defender near midfield before going on one of his trademark runs, dodging two defenders and shooting brilliantly past the keeper into the bottom right corner.
Messi still had a few tricks left for the La Liga bottom-dwellers. He completed his hat trick in the 78th minute when he got a great pass from Andres Iniesta on his left foot and put a stunningly placed shot past Gago. After Zaragoza answered with two goals of their own to make things interesting, Messi put the game away for good. He controlled a long pass perfectly at the edge of the box and completely turned around one Zaragoza defender before faking out another, and he was then dragged down blatantly in the penalty box. In a show of ultimate class, Messi, who usually takes the Barcelona penalties, conceded the opportunity this time to striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who had been struggling with his form as of late, and the Swede converted the penalty for the 4-2 win.
Barcelona are now tied with Real Madrid at 68 points but trail by two in the goal differential column. The Catalan club has two La Liga fixtures in the upcoming week before heading to the Emirates to take on Arsenal in the quarterfinals of the Champions League next Wednesday.