Lionel Messi: Why Star Forward Must Be at His Best vs. Malaga

Ryan DavenportContributor IJanuary 17, 2013

MALAGA, SPAIN - JANUARY 13:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona runs with the ball during the La Liga match between Malaga CF and FC Barcelona at La Rosaleda Stadium on January 13, 2013 in Malaga, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Today's result wasn't what Barcelona had hoped for, but it might be for the best.

That's because until now, the best club team in the world has been largely unchallenged this season, and it may be that Lionel Messi and the rest of his defending Copa del Rey champion teammates needed a wake-up call.

Messi's club got it in the first leg of the tournament quarterfinals, as they settled for a draw in Barcelona against Malaga, and now face a do-or-die situation.

If that's the case, the rest of the field should tread softly, because when Barcelona were on the ropes last year in the tournament semifinals against Valencia, they silenced their doubters with a 2-0 win, and marched on to their first Cope del Rey title in three years, over Athletic Bilbao, no less.

But now, with his club's tournament fortunes in jeopardy, it's time for Messi to once again show why he's been awarded the coveted Ballon d'Or award for the past four seasons, when Barcelona takes on Malaga on January 24 for the decisive match in their decisive quarterfinal match.

It's not as if Messi was anywhere close to average in the first leg, as the Argentina international scored just after Malaga had taken a 1-0 lead to keep the score level, and continued to create chances throughout the rest of the match.

But if Barcelona hopes to remain champions of one of Europe's most prestigious tournaments, Messi will have to be even better, because when he's at his best, there's no player on the planet that can keep pace with him.

That's why he scored a record-breaking 91 goals in 2012, and it's also why he's tallied 35 goals in just 26 appearances this season. He's a game-breaker.

If he plays up to the level he's consistently risen to for the last 18 months, Barcelona will be contending for the club's second consecutive Copa del Rey title.

If not, unless Andres Iniesta steals the show in the midfield, Barcelona could be sent packing early.

Judging by Messi's consistency, that won't be the case.


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