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The Game of Messi

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The last game and the last chance of the season are upon us. And, not surprisingly, Barcelona needs one more great performance from the world's greatest talent

Clive Rose

La Liga Final is finally here. After a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the year, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid will decide who wins this season's Spanish League this Saturday, in front of almost 100,000 fans in the Camp Nou. After a tumultuous season, to say the least, Barça has the last chance of winning its second title this season. The other one, against the same Atlético, was the Spanish Super Cup. After a couple of draws, Barça won because of the away goal scored in the first matchup.

In five games this season, the Blaugrana still doesn't know what it means to win a game against the colchoneros. Things get worse when you talk about goals. Barça has failed to score in three of the five matches, and has put the ball in the back of the net only twice against Diego Simeone's defense.

The guy who scored those two goals is not expected to play the Final. Neymar is still recovering from foot injury and it would be a huge surprise if he does get ready for the game. The Brazilian was the best Barça player in a lot of the five battles, and if can't play, it's a big problem.

So, the hopes of a Barcelona titile the season are in the hands and left foot of our hero: Lionel Messi. The Argentinian is perhaps the best Blaugrana ever and we are lucky to see him in his prime for the last four years. This season, however, Messi is still not Messi. You can't deny it. His stats haven't changed much. His level of performance? Ugh... After some injuries, Leo came back at a time when the whole team went south. He did too. Especially against Atlético.

In the two Champions League matches, we didn't come even close to seeing the Messi we know. He seemed off, not really into the game, almost apathetic during the most important moments. The only Messi highlight of the quarterfinal was a beautiful free-kick in the second half of the first leg. Leo put the ball where he wanted, but Atleti's Courtouis made a great save, keeping the score 1-1 in Barça's home. That was it.

After that, he alternated good and not so good moments, including the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid, in which I honestly forgot he was playing until the Bale goal, when the cameras focused on him. It was not good. At all.

You can't question Messi's motivation coming into those games. Is he tired? Does he really wanna play this game? Is he mad at Tata Martino? None of these apply to a player like him, who wants to win every single time he goes on the pitch. The problem is the team as whole. Everybody deserves blame for what happended, including him. But you can't say he doesn't care like he once did.

However, as we have seen before, there are some games that he simply does not want to lose. That spectacular 4-3 win against Real Madrid in March (which is probably the reason why Barça still has the chance of winning La Liga) is an example of that. Leo played possibly his greatest game this season; he moved from side to side, he defended, he created chances for others, he ran the whole field, and he scored a hat-trick. It was beautiful to watch, and we all thought that Messi was back. Well, he was. But just for that game.

Now, we hope that Messi comes back this Saturday. It's the sixth Barça-Atlético match, and the last chance of winning the title. Not only that, it's Leo's opportunity to begin a run to the World Cup. Yes, this is more thant just one game for him. He knows the pressure of winning the Cup this year. He knows how much he needs it to solidify himself as the greatest ever. His country counts on him. And if he has a great performance this Saturday, he can go to Brazil with the necessary confidence to keep the hot streak going in June-July.

So everything comes down to how does Messi face this game. We all know he wants to win. But how bad does he want not to lose? We hope Leo answers that question the way he did two months ago. Then we'll finally have a reason to celebrate Barcelona this season.

And we'll also have one more reason to celebrate Lionel Messi.