Individual awards are a thing of beauty, and even in team sports, some players soar above the rest and are therefore congratulated for their outstanding effort.
Football is one such game where individuals are recognized despite there being evidence that a team cannot thrive on just individuals. Thus it presents a problem when people follow one team and opinions about individual awards are loosely based on a team’s trophy count.
Cristiano Ronaldo has won the biggest individual awards this season that football had to offer. Real Madrid reclaimed La Liga for the first time since 2012 and retained the UEFA Champions League by becoming the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Champions League began.
The hype around Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo often means that if one does well then the other recedes from memory. However one thing cannot be overlooked, that Messi still had a brilliant season and on Saturday he showed his mettle as Barcelona thrashed Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.
“There's little point in trying to deny what's as prominent as the nose on your face; Lionel Messi is the King of El Clasico,” Madrid based Marca wrote.
Indeed Messi has been decisive in many Clasico fixtures over the years and he seems to like taking Real Madrid apart at the Bernabeu. Last season the Argentine scored at the dying seconds to give Barcelona an incredible 2-3 win at the Bernabeu.
He has now scored more times against Real Madrid in La Liga than any player in history. He also has the most number of goals this calendar year and was by far the best player in La Liga last season for which he was awarded the Di Stefano award. Barcelona may not have won the league last season but Messi was ominous and decisive in the league, scoring 37 times to win the Pichichi award.
In Saturday’s Clasico, Messi was instrumental in everything Barcelona did. His positioning, vision and hunger to be the decisive factor meant that Madrid, who dominated proceedings in the first half, were unable to eliminate Messi’s influence.
With that victory, Messi now has 10 wins under his belt while playing at the Bernabeu and when it comes to Clasicos, he reigns supreme. Messi does not have a rival in the Clasico matchups and has far surpassed Cristiano when it comes to influencing the outcome of the matches.
In 38 matches against Real Madrid, Messi has notched up 18 wins compared to Cristiano’s eight wins from 29 fixtures against Barca. Off Messi’s 25 goals against Real Madrid, 15 have come at Madrid’s home turf.
Messi also has 14 assists under his bag against Real Madrid; Cristiano has just one against Barcelona. The stats might irk Real Madrid fans but Messi’s influence goes far beyond stats.
On Saturday, Zinedine Zidane handed Mateo Kovacic a start and a man-marking job on the pitch. Kovacic and Casemiro pairing undoubtedly minimized the Argentine’s influence in the first half of the match but Messi then showed why he is so great. Barca’s first goal came when Kovacic marking Messi created structural issue for Madrid. Messi just kept Kovacic occupied; allowing Rakitic to go through Madrid midfield undisturbed after Busquets set him through. Madrid defensive line were left against three attackers and Barca capitalized. It might have looked like Messi was not doing much, but it was crucial that he kept Kovacic interested rather than make a forward run.
Messi can influence any match with his skill and poise and he proceeded to set up Barca full back Aleix Vidal for a goal in the final minutes -- only this time, he did it while wearing only one boot; while the boot on his right foot lay on the floor as he skinned Marcelo.
Just by being on the pitch he can influence how the opponents will react to a Barcelona attack.
It’s hard for Messi to win individual awards all the time and Ronaldo has prominence because of crucial performances in the late stages of Madrid’s Liga and Champions League double winning season. But when it comes to head to head encounters in Clasicos, there is only one king.
Messi was also instrumental to Argentina making it to the 2018 Russia World Cup. His hattrick against Ecuador ensured third place finish for Argentina.