Messi looked sharp during Saturday's defeat to Valencia
First of all, let's just say welcome back, Lionel Messi. We've all missed you.
The four-time Ballon d'Or winner spent an agonizing two months on the sidelines with a hamstring injury recently, but he made a return to action in mid-January in some style— scoring a brace in Barcelona's 2-0 Copa del Rey victory over Getafe. Having eased his way back into action, Messi is now ready to set the world alight with his unimaginable brilliance once again.
We all know that Barcelona have exceptional talent all over the pitch, but it's the psychological boost of having Messi alongside you that will give the players a huge lift—a sentiment that midfielder Cesc Fabregas agrees with wholeheartedly, as reported by Paul Gorst of The Daily Mirror.
His return is great news for the coach, for the club, for everyone. We feel very secure with Leo back...Obviously he is our main man and we always hope he can be next to us on the pitch. He is getting back to becoming the Leo that we all know and he will grow in confidence as he plays more games and the sensations improve.
Fabregas' excitement at having Messi back in action isn't without reason, as his side fair much better with their star man than without him.
|BARCELONA WITH MESSI|
|Total minutes with Messi||1196|
|Minutes per goal||32.32|
|BARCELONA WITHOUT MESSI|
|Total minutes without Messi||1414|
|Minutes per goal||32.14|
Though the goal-scoring rates are very similar, unsurprisingly with the likes of Neymar, Alexis Sanchez and Pedro in the ranks, Barca are a much more fragile side without Messi, both statistically and visibly.
He provides the kind of outlet that no other player can, as he's able to keep the ball and dictate play wherever he pops up on the pitch—and that's reflected in his side's possession stats over the current campaign. With Messi on the pitch, Barcelona have averaged 68 percent possession in all competitions, whereas that statistic stands at just 60 percent without him.
Barcelona enter a string of tough fixtures as we arrive in February, with the Champions League clash with English invincibles Manchester City a main priority for Gerardo Martino's side. But, with Messi returning to full fitness, you'd be unwise to bet against the Spanish giants producing the goods at the Etihad Stadium.
Let's not forget, this is the player who scored 91 goals for club and country in a calendar year back in 2012 and the player who won four Ballon d'Or awards in a row—smashing yet another record. While Messi has had his critics of late, he's not about to do a Fernando Torres on us; the 26-year-old simply will return to his best.
The Argentine forward was back amongst the goals on Saturday, where he netted from the spot in a 3-2 defeat to Valencia at the Camp Nou, ending a goal drought that had seen him off of the La Liga scoresheets since September 2013.
And with that goal, new confidence will be bred into Messi and Barcelona, who face a nervy title race with Madrid outfits Athletico and Real as we approach the climax of the campaign.
Will Messi return to his 2012 best? Of course he will. The man has more talent in his little finger than I could even dream of possessing, and as he returns to his best, Barca will see the La Liga title pendulum swing their way.