Champions League

Inspired Messi to lead Barca

2015-06-03 10:18
Lionel Messi (Supplied)
Lionel Messi (Supplied)

Madrid - Lionel Messi has rediscovered the very best form of his illustrious career, just when Barcelona need him most.

The little Argentine scored two goals - the first one a veritable work of art - in Barca's 3-1 in the Spanish Cup final Saturday against Athletic Bilbao, exactly two weeks after putting away the goal which clinched Barca's latest league title with a 1-0 win at outgoing champions Atletico Madrid.

Now his next target is Juventus in Saturday's Champions League final in Berlin.

He scored in the 2011 and 2009 finals, against Manchester United on both occasions, and is now looking to do so against the Italian champions.

Juve defender Giorgio Chiellini said Sunday that Messi would not have been allowed to score Saturday's first goal against an Italian defence.

However, the 'Old Lady' - as Juve are affectionately known - will have to be careful if they are planning to stop the Argentine with endless fouls because - as sports daily AS pointed out Monday - "Messi is even more lethal when he is angry, as many defenders who have kicked him will testify."

He has scored 58 goals in 56 games in all competitions this season, even though the season did not begin well for him.

Messi started the season in flat mood after Argentina's 1-0 defeat against Germany in the World Cup final. In addition, his Rosario friend Gerardo Martino had quit as Barca coach, and a lawsuit for massive tax evasion in Spain was beginning to affect his popularity among the fans.

For the first time in his career, he looked overweight and slow. Former Barca coach Carles Rexach commented that "Messi seems to be eating too many pizzas."

To make matters worse, the new Barca coach was Luis Enrique, an authoritarian figure in dark glasses given to demanding more effort from the players in training in loud, abrasive voice.

Messi put up with Luis Enrique until January, when the coach left him on the subs' bench - for the first time since 2006 - for a game at Real Sociedad as a punishment for having arrived back late from Argentina after the New Year break.

Luis Enrique brought Messi on at half-time but Barca lost 1-0, and the two men almost came to blows in the dressing-room.

Messi reportedly asked club president Josep Maria Bartomeu for a guarantee that Luis Enrique would be on his way in June, while the club captains struggled to pour oil on troubled waters.

Ironically, Messi's fury led not to a long sulk or strop, but instead an avalanche of goals.

Luis Enrique placed him out on the right wing, his old position, with Luis Suarez at centre-forward and Neymar down the lift. The outcome has been 30 wins in 34 games - and the treble of Liga, Cup and Champions on the horizon.

"Messi is leaner, fitter and keener than ever," commented Catalan paper, which estimated that he had lost around five kilos since January.

To the delight of the Barca fans, Messi and Luis Enrique hugged each other after the Liga and cup triumphs, confirming that peace had broken out.

"I am feeling wonderful at the moment," Messi wrote Sunday.

"Now we just have to win one more match in order to finish off the season properly. But we know that Juventus are going to be very difficult opponents.

"We have had to suffer a lot to reach the final, so we don't want to waste this opportunity...It will be hard to win, but I think we are in a good condition to do so."

Read more on:    barcelona  |  champions league  |  lionel messi  |  soccer
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