Argentine superstar scores twice in 30-minute cameo as Tata Martino’s men crush Getafe 4-0.
Lionel Messi returned to action after nearly two months out injured last night and was straight back to his prolific scoring ways.
The 26-year-old superstar is expected to lose out to Cristiano Ronaldo for the 2013 Ballon d’Or at FIFA’s ceremony next Monday, but he showed there is plenty more to come from the diminutive maestro in 2014.
The man who has claimed the Ballon d’Or for the previous four years since Ronaldo last won it in 2008 has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since November, but replaced Andres Iniesta in the 63rd minute with the Blaugrana 2-0 up.
Cesc Fabregas had scored both goals, the second from the penalty spot, but it was the introduction of Messi that brought the biggest cheer from the Nou Camp faithful as Barca made strides towards the Copa Del Rey's quarter-finals.
The superstar was soon back into his rhythm, showing off his pace when motoring down the left flank before delivering a superb cross which only just missed team-mate Pedro.
With only a minute of normal time remaining, young full-back Martin Montoya set Messi up for a simple finish inside the penalty area but the Argentine was saving his best for last.
He fired an injury-time free kick into the wall before, with only seconds remaining, he picked up a pass from Alex Song just inside the Getafe half.
His pace proved too much for the opposition defenders as he ran towards goal and finished the move with a trademark curling finish into the back of the net.
Next up for Barcelona is a top-of-the-table clash with Atletico Madrid, and Messi will be expecting to carry on his blistering scoring.
Despite his injury troubles, Messi still had a phenomenal 2013, with 37 goals in 36 apperances for his club as well as six goals in seven caps for Argentina.
While Ronaldo’s consistency and incredible goal-scoring feats cannot be disputed, it was Messi and Barca that claimed the La Liga title as Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid reign ended in acrimony.
Despite some pundits, including Jamie Redknapp, questioning if Messi could ever return to his best, the fact remains that the forward has scored an incredible 249 goals for Barca in 235 appearances since summer 2009.
He was only missing for a brief period towards the tail end of last season, and this latest lay-off hasn’t exactly been long term either, so to suggest that Ronaldo has overtaken Messi forever is surely foolish.
Messi is, of course, three years younger than his Portuguese rival and his club remain above Ronaldo’s in La Liga.
If Ronaldo does claim the top prize on Monday, Messi will be even more inspired to regain it in a year’s time and he certainly has a big platform to perform upon this season.
A stick that has been used to beat Messi in ‘best player of all time’ debates in recent years has been his failure to claim World Cup glory with Argentina.
But surely the fact he was only 18 at World Cup 2006, and in 2010 was under the tutelage of a manager (Diego Maradona) who, amongst other quirks, chose to select then-Championship winger Jonas Gutierrez as his right-back ahead of the likes of Javier Zanetti and Pablo Zabaleta, are mitigating factors.
This year Messi has the perfect stage to shine on - a World Cup in South America, where Argentina would just love to spoil the party for their rivals and neighbours in Brazil.
The Argentine has proven himself time and again in the Champions League and La Liga, and he is clearly already one of the all time greats, but if last night’s performance is anything to go by, 2014 is going to be a big year for the little magician.
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