Lionel Messi Will Thrive on Barcelona Critics in Big World Cup Year

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Lionel Messi Will Thrive on Barcelona Critics in Big World Cup Year
Jon Super/Associated Press
Lionel Messi will be eager to silence any taunts in the last couple of months of the season.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi is playing himself back into his best form after his long injury lay-off, and that spells danger not only for the rest of La Liga but also for his World Cup opponents.

Eight goals in his last seven appearances is a handsome return, and it's traditionally at this time of the year when Messi comes into his own.

Much was made of Barcelona's Champions League exit to Bayern Munich last season, but it was perhaps overlooked that from March 2 last season, per soccerbase.com, Messi scored 11 in 11.

The season before, during the same timeframe, he netted an astonishing 29 in 18 games.

It's clear what a fit and in-form Messi brings to the Blaugrana:

Entering the last couple of months of this season, you can be sure that the Argentinian captain will be looking to arrive in Rio in the best possible physical and mental shape.

So a continued studious approach from Barcelona toward ensuring Messi's wellbeing is therefore the sensible approach. 

Gerardo Martino told reporters at a recent press conference (h/t Inside Spanish Football), the Argentine will continue to be assessed the same as any other player:

Messi will keep playing and at the time we think he needs a rest, we’ll do that.

Right now, he’s like any other player in the squad. We shouldn’t be thinking of him as a player who has just got back from an injury. He’s had a gradual process getting back into the team.

The idea remains for the players to keep in good shape through to the end of the season and in no way is there anything that forces me to change that idea.

Of course, if there is one thing guaranteed to spur Messi on to even greater heights, it's proving the critics wrong. 

Despite a commanding performance over Manchester City in the Champions League, Vincent Kompany saw fit to label Barca "not the best side we have faced this season"—per David Anderson of the Daily Mirror.

Kompany's colleague Samir Nasri went a step further. Per Mark Ogden of the Daily Telegraph, he said:

Are Barca the best team we have faced? No, I don’t think they are.

Bayern are the best team we played. Against Bayern, for 60 minutes, we did not touch the ball. They are the best team, Barcelona are not.

In fact, such comments fly in the face of the evidence.

Squawka.com note that, as the away team, Barca had 61 percent of the possession and a 96 percent successful pass completion rate. By contrast, Bayern had 59 percent possession and a pass completion rate of 89 percent, again per squawka.com.

Dermot Corrigan of ESPN also noted that some pundits had mischievously suggested that Messi seemed disinterested after the defeat to Real Sociedad at the Anoeta Stadium.

Cesc Fabregas immediately sprung to his teammate's defence:

If there is a player who pulls the others along it is Leo Messi, in every game.

And if something is being asked from him, they should ask us for three times as much. What was said against Leo was totally false. He looks very good to me.

Leo has been the most consistent player in world football. When you need him, he is there, and I do not doubt he will be again. His mood is good, he is happy.

In any event, such stinging criticism will be music to Messi's ears. 

Although the second leg against the Citizens is far from the foregone conclusion some may believe, there is no more motivation required for Leo to deliver a body blow to Manuel Pellegrini's aspirations of an unprecedented quadruple.

In La Liga, too, Barca have been all but written off, despite being only three points behind Real Madrid in top spot.

Even if the status quo remains the same for the next couple of weeks, there is another El Clasico on the horizon. A fixture where Messi excels.

Manu Fernandez/Associated Press
Pepe and Sergio Ramos will have to be at their very best to stop Lionel Messi writing his name into the history books.

One more goal sees him overtake the legendary Alfredo di Stefano as the leading scorer in games between the two sides. No better time or place to write yourself into the history books once more. 

With Messi still hungry to further his claim as one of the best exponents to have ever played the game, it's certainly ill-advised at best for anyone to add fuel to his fire.

They could find themselves getting burned.

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