After a sensational showing in the UEFA Champions League that featured two goals and one of the more memorable comebacks in modern football, the bar is no doubt set high once again for Lionel Messi and Barcelona as they press on for the rest of the 2012-13 season.
The Argentinian wizard was seemingly shut down by AC Milan in the first leg and then by Real Madrid in their Copa del Rey encounter the following week—sparking great interest and debate as to whether the Catalan club's current tactics and thinking with Messi were correct.
Yet with goals in his previous two matches heading into this week's Champions League affair, it seemed that Messi and Barcelona were back on track. And after thumping Milan 4-0 to emerge victorious from the European field once more, those assumptions about "being back" were correct.
They were back, with their clinical and deadly attack thriving again.
Thus with still several months remaining in the UEFA Champions League and domestic competitions, what lies ahead for Messi and Barcelona is still largely unknown. We assume they'll win the La Liga title given their extensive lead; we assume they'll be competitive in the European tournament; we assume that the Argentinian wizard will be at the forefront of their attack in both of those competitions.
Yet as far as what will actually transpire, we don't yet know. Read on to see some realistic projections for Messi (and Barcelona) for the remainder of the 2012-13 season.
Can He Better His 50-Goal Mark in La Liga?
Last season, it seemed almost incredible that we were discussing how Messi had netted 50 goals in La Liga through just 36 appearances for Barca. And yet, in 2013, we find ourselves discussing once more whether Messi will hit that 50-goal mark in this season or not.
The Argentinian international currently has 40 goals through the season to date, and that's on just 25 appearances for the Catalan club.
His goal scoring in this season has perhaps been even more incredible than last year, with the striker seemingly able to consistently find the back of the net. Regardless of the opponent or context, Messi always seems to find himself in space and is able to execute brilliantly when given the chance.
With 11 La Liga matches to go, it's hard to see Messi not finding 10 goals in that time frame—particularly given how well he's done so far this year. I'd say he finishes with 54 goals for the year, with his last few games against good teams proving just how deadly he can be.
When Will His Consecutive Goal-Scoring Streak End?
It was the record that nobody seemed to know about, but after Messi netted against Deportivo La Coruna (coming on as a substitute, mind you), Barcelona announced this statement via their Twitter about the latest record that their star striker had broken.
FC Barcelona @FCBarcelona
Messi has scored in 17 consecutive La Liga matches. #FCBLive2013-3-9 20:47:26
The question now, it seems, is as to when that streak will come to an end—especially given the opponents that Barcelona have coming up in La Liga.
They play a tough matchup against Rayo Vallecano, but if Messi plays, it's hard to not see him scoring a goal at home. La Blaugrana then play Celta Vigo, Mallorca, Zaragoza, Levante, Athletic Bilbao and Betis before playing away to Atletico Madrid on May 12, 2013.
As crazy as it seems, Messi's streak could well continue all the way up until then, with no real tough opponents on hand domestically until that date.
Granted he might be rested or taken out early to prepare for a Champions League game before then—depending on what Jordi Roura decides to do. But in terms of regular playing time and appearances, expect the goal-scoring streak to continue for much longer still.
Can He Go All the Way in the Champions League?
After watching him light up the Champions League stage once more, the question that most fans will be desperately wanting to know is whether Messi (and Barcelona) can go all the way in 2013?
Three weeks ago, the answer would have been no. Yet after all that transpired at the Nou Camp, how could Barca be denied as a very strong contender here?
Messi seemed to find his right positioning and tactics in that game that allowed him extra space and time on the ball and also gave great space to David Villa as a result. If they can continue that tandem and continue to succeed because of it, it will be a tough ask to stop Barca in the UCL.
We don't yet know who their quarterfinal opponent will be, so it makes predicting their matchups and talking about the different angles rather pointless.
However, what we do know is that Messi and Barcelona are seemingly just getting started, and when it comes to the Champions League, they've proven that they know how to go all the way. If they can play like they did against Milan, then don't expect the Catalan club to be going away any time soon.
Especially if they're only just getting started.
What do you think Lionel Messi will achieve in the rest of 2012/13?
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