Biggest Star in World Football in September

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IOctober 1, 2014

Barcelona's Lionel Messi controls the ball during the Champions League Group F soccer match between Barcelona and Apoel at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press

To be completely honest, when selecting candidates for a Player of the Month award, it can be difficult to look past the familiar duo of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Their performance levels are so high and so consistent that they continually demand consideration for such awards.

On this occasion, though, it is impossible to look past the duo and, in particular, Argentinian Messi. His Portuguese rival may have scored 10 goals and provided an assist in a spectacular month, but he is trumped by the magical nature of the Barcelona man's recent form.

With four goals and seven assists himself, Messi was undoubtedly September's standout performer.

Luis Enrique's new Barcelona are not flawless, as their Champions League travails in Paris this week demonstrated. However, with Messi in full flow, they remain as daunting a side as any in the game.

Under Pep Guardiola from 2009 to 2011, Barcelona produced some of the best football of the modern era, with one-touch passing moves that left even the best defences seemingly treading water. Their demolitions of Manchester United in Rome and Wembley finals being particular standout displays.

Yet, since that second triumph, the Catalan side have failed to reach such heights again and, indeed, may never do so. Under Enrique over the last fortnight, though, there have been passages of play reminiscent of their very best levels.

While the supporting cast has undergone some changes, Messi remains at the very forefront of the team's best play. In his famous false-nine role, with Neymar and Pedro or Munir either side of him, he is allowed to wander as he pleases to influence play in all areas for his side.

When performing as he has of late, there is something very graceful about the diminutive playmaker from Rosario. He glides past players, passes with pinpoint precision and finishes moves with such effortless ease that it can almost appear disdainful.

His goal, including wonderful buildup play with long-time team-mate Andres Iniesta and new kid on the block Neymar, in Paris epitomised Messi at his very best.

Barcelona and their star have had to adapt to the effects of ageing, with neither Messi nor the team as a whole pressing the ball with the intensity that was once the case under Guardiola.

Yet, while injuries and age may have forced adaptation, Messi's ability to decide games remains undiminished.

Even those who find the constant fawning over his record-breaking rather tiresome, which has doubtless included most non-Barcelona fans at some point, cannot deny that it is an absolute pleasure to watch football played with the elegance Messi brings at his best.

So different from his main rival in style, yet so similar in effectiveness, this is very much an era of football that will long be defined by Messi and Ronaldo's greatness.

Sadly for the Portuguese, as when selecting this "Star of the Month" award, Messi at his very best so often gets the neutral vote.

Last weekend's performance against Granada saw Messi strike a magical 10 out of 10 on WhoScored.com's statistic-based rating system, with his average score for the month just shy of nine points. While not a perfect scoring system, it gives some indication of his impact on matches over recent weeks.

A Malaga match in which the whole Barcelona side appeared under the weather is the only slight blot on his copybook over the course of six matches in September. For the remaining five games, Messi was as close to his vintage self as we have seen in the past couple of seasons—a real joy to watch.