With Lionel Messi’s 200th career goal for Spanish club F.C. Barcelona, the Argentina-born forward simply enhanced what has already been an incredible start to his European career. Not one to shy away from heroics, Messi added another goal in the 45th minute following his penalty conversion in the 24th and completed the hat trick in the 90th by way of a Gerard Piqué back heel.
Although Czech side Viktoria Plzen is not considered a substantial measure by which to judge Messi or his own club’s performance in the Champions League, the opponent says little towards the 24-year-old’s dominance. The international soccer community may already view Messi as the best footballer in the world, as his back-to-back FIFA Player of the Year titles suggest, but the striker always seems to improve on his own skill set and focus. That has certainly been the case for him in 2011, with Messi totaling 13 goals and six assists in just 10 games in La Liga. Messi certainly showed that his prowess extends to the Champions League as well with his most recent record-setting performance.
Astonishingly, some soccer fans, and even Messi fans, had questioned the star’s concentration and dedication over the past few weeks. This criticism understandably came following a string of poor games for Barcelona as a team, but I think it’s safe to say that Messi responded with sufficient force. His UEFA Champions League totals now stand at five goals and two assists through four games played. Lionel Messi is on top of his game, and the Champions League is beginning to pay the painful price.
Speaking of the Champions League, let’s take a look at how some of other, non-Barcelona teams fared in the group stage. It looks like the most recent slate of games has accurately captured the state of affairs in the top French, Spanish and English flights.
Current La Liga leaders Real Madrid moved into the round of 16 with a 2-0 victory over Olympique Lyonnais. Striker Christiano Ronaldo scored twice for the Spanish side, netting a free kick and penalty shot. Real will attempt to once again overtake Barcelona in both the Champions League and La Liga, but with Messi playing in top form, that task will prove to be as difficult as ever.
F.C. Internazionale Milano took care of French side Lille to sport a four-point lead in Group B. Inter, winners of the 2010 Champions League final, looked strong as title game hero Diego Milito put one away in the second half to seal it.
The results were definitely more of a mixed bag for the British clubs competing over the last few days. Current Premier League leaders Manchester City were nothing short of destructive in their match against Spanish side Villarreal C.F. and jumped into second place in Group A behind F.C. Bayern München. Yaya Touré’s two goals paced the English club who will secure a spot in the next round with a win in Italy against SSC Napoli later this month.
Perennial contenders Arsenal and Chelsea sputtered to draws against inferior opponents, putting their tournament chances in doubt. The Blues played to 1-1 against Genk while the Gunners were held scoreless by a similarly-constructed Marseille club. While Arsenal can take solace in their recent 5-3 triumph over Chelsea in the Premier Leauge, the London side and their young coach are in search of answers. They now stand in a disappointing fourth place, nine points below Manchester City and three back of this year’s most surpirsing Premier League club in Newcastle United.
England’s most successful club in recent years, Manchester United, has kept a surprisingly low profile in 2011 despite a 7-2-1 record in the top flight. Although their 2-0 victory over Otelul Gulati was more than a little close for comfort, Wayne Rooney’s club should be confident in their chances going forward. Still, Man U is definitely on upset alert for the foreseeable future with some dangerous matchups coming up in the next few weeks.
Remember, regardless of the outcomes, Messi will remain on top.
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