After admitting in his own words that 2014 was “a not very good year,” Lionel Messi has lately regained the mercurial form that made him the undisputed best player on Earth for most of the last half decade. As this weekend’s El Clasico looms, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner is flying high once again.
Reports in the Spanish media have it that Messi’s return to form is in part due to a renewed commitment to fitness that included giving up pizza and shedding eight pounds from this time last year.
According to the Catalan daily, Mundo, Messi has refocused his training efforts and has been showing up early for team sessions to do extra work. He’s apparently also been working with a dietician and the kinesiologist for the Argentine national team.
Whatever he’s doing, it seems to be working: Against Manchester City in the Champions League this week, the Barça playmaker put in an inspired performance that saw him back to his effervescent best. He also looks to have rediscovered his love of playing the game. We’ve seen less of the labored expression he often wore last year and more smiles from Messi who, unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, seems equally happy when he sets up a teammate as he does when he gets on the scoresheet himself.
Ahead of the Clasico, Messi’s good form has tilted the balance in favor of Barcelona and the Catalans go into Sunday’s clash with Real Madrid as heavy favorites.
But it’s more than just Messi’s good form and the homefield advantage that make Barça the favorites this weekend. Messi’s surge has corresponded with a dip in form for Ronaldo. While Messi has scored 20 goals in this calendar year, Ronaldo has scored ‘only’ nine. Not a bad haul for most players obviously, but since winning this year’s Ballon d’Or, CR7 has seen an undeniable drop-off from the stellar form he showed throughout 2014.
And while the media has generally celebrated Messi’s resurgence, the Portuguese remains under scrutiny. From his ill-timed birthday party earlier this year, to his on-pitch behavior, Ronaldo can’t seem to put a foot right at the moment.
Messi, on the other hand, can’t seem to put one wrong. In his current form, with his chemistry with Neymar and Luis Suarez improving, it’s easy to predict a Barcelona victory this weekend. But as we know, football rarely sticks to the script.
Ronaldo isn’t the only one under pressure at Real Madrid. Gareth Bale and manager Carlo Ancelotti have all felt the glare of the media’s scrutiny recently. Real Madrid will arrive at the Camp Nou this weekend as motivated as they’ve ever been. And it’s not just about pride or bragging rights. The winner of Sunday’s clash will top La Liga. If Barcelona win they’ll open up a four-point lead that might make it difficult for anyone to catch them this late in the season. Real Madrid can’t afford to let that happen.
But the question is, now that he’s given up pizza, can anyone stop Messi?