Don’t call it a comeback. It’s simply Lionel Messi feeling comfortable again with being himself, injury free, the most dangerous footballer on the planet. But with Barcelona putting themselves almost in pole position to win the La Liga title again, the injury of Victor Valdes might ruin this whole newly found hope thing.
Jose Manuel Pinto was never a world class goalkeeper. As a backup to Victor Valdes he knew he wouldn’t be called upon except for the Copa Del Rey. He’s a reliable backup and experienced goalkeeper, but he’s probably not good enough to start for most of the La Liga teams. Despite Valdes’ poor form of late, he is still the better choice to put behind a shaky defense as it moves into its most important stretch of the season: Chasing Atletico Madrid in the league, trying to remain perfect by doing so, two matches against Atletico in the Champions League and a cup final against Real Madrid.
But the feeling is that with Messi playing like the best footballer in the world once more, even this goalkeeper setback doesn’t matter. The team that wins all of its matches until the end of the season in Spain wins the championship. It’s that simple, and in the La Liga, it’s completely doable for the top two teams. Real Madrid need some outside assistance if they are to climb back from they’ve fallen to.
There are more happy news than just Messi, and the Valdes injury, at least until it actually stars costing Barcelona on the pitch (if it actually will), isn’t enough to put frowns on everyone’s faces. Neymar scored twice with two assists from Alexis Sanchez, Lionel Messi is moving quite well from the central forward role to a more retreated, playmaker spot when needed, Andres Iniesta is playing his best football of the season. Xavi, with all of the rotations and forced rests, might be completely fit and fresh for the most important matches of the season.
Don’t count Messi out of the Pichichi race as well. Yes, he’s got a seven goal deficit to make up for, but you never know with these two players. Ronaldo himself is suddenly struggling. Not to score – there are always dives that will fool referees into giving him penalties and free kicks, but his ability on the pitch in open play has been close to abysmal as it gets for the second best footballer on the planet.
When Real Madrid had a few bad results earlier this season it was wrong to count them out. Nothing has changed. Barcelona are still fragile when they’re not completely focused when playing away from home. More than ability and fitness, it seems that some form of complacency and mental laziness, not to mention weird tactical decisions at times from Martino, have cost Barcelona a bit more than it should have this season.
Now is the time to make up for these mistakes, with the future once more resting on their shoulders, and most of all on Messi’s feet. It’s hard to see Barcelona winning both major competitions this season, especially not the Champions League. But the league is the bread & butter, and so much more. This year has been a rough one for too many reasons, a lot of them having nothing to do with football. Even the injury to Valdes isn’t going to be remembered if the football we’ve seen from Barcelona over the last three matches is here to stay until the end of the season.