It’ll be a real shame if another extraordinary Lionel Messi season comes to be underrated. Sadly, I think it’s all but certain it will be if Barcelona do not win any trophies. It’s not guaranteed that the Catalans will go empty-handed this season - but it seems likely, to be honest. At least, more likely than not.
A 4-1 win over Villarreal offers a glimmer of hope that there is a new and improved version of Barcelona on the horizon, compared to the one that more or less gift wrapped a league lead to Real Madrid over the past few weeks. But it could also be a false dawn.
That shouldn’t tarnish what the captain is doing at the individual level.
Messi is on an astonishing 19 assists in La Liga, one away from Xavi’s all-time La Liga record of 20. (Messi may have gotten 20 assists in 2014-15, as well, although that is disputed depending on how you define an assist. But for Opta’s purposes, Messi got 19 that season.)
He’s also just two away from Thomas Müller’s 21 assists for Bayern, the most any player has logged in Europe since Opta started tracking the stat.
And, Messi is doing this while being the league’s top scorer, with 22. One benchmark that is entirely within sight is Thierry Henry’s legendary 2002-03 Arsenal season, in which he scored 24 goals and got 20 assists. No player has recorded 20+ of both in one league campaign in Europe apart from Henry since Opta began tracking assists.
Messi could be the first to record 20 or more assists in a league campaign while being the top scorer as well, seeing as Henry was second in the scoring charts to Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Ten of Barcelona’s last 12 goals have been either scored or assisted by Messi, as well, which shows you how dependent the team still is on him. The two goals not assisted or scored by Messi have both been scored by Ansu Fati, both times from assists by a left-back: Jordi Alba and Junior Firpo.
This might not be Messi’s most historically explosive season in terms of scoring, or even close to it, but it could be his most well-rounded.