Lionel Messi's scoring comeback continued this weekend after the Barcelona ace netted the winning goal in his side's 2-1 win over Malaga, and Robert Lewandowski made an explosive start to 2016 to resume his 2015-16 Golden Shoe pursuit.
Barca hero Messi has now scored in three successive Liga games for the first time this season following his knee injury absence earlier in the campaign, bringing his tally for the term up to 20, with 11 of those in La Liga.
Gonzalo Higuain extended his lead at the Golden Shoe summit after netting in Napoli's 4-2 win at Sassuolo, but Lewandowski was the hitman to watch as he pulled Bayern Munich to a 2-1 win over Hamburg thanks to his brace.
Luis Suarez and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn't add to their tallies this weekend, but Benfica's Jonas maintained his fine run with a strike against Arouca to move into second spot. Leicester City's Jamie Vardy ended a seven-match scoring drought to reignite his campaign, and Islam Slimani moved into the Golden Shoe's top 10 after recording his third brace in five league outings for Primeira Liga leaders Sporting Lisbon.
Household names and lesser-knowns alike remain in the hunt for Europe's top-scorer award, and we provide an updated look at the most prolific figures from across the continent's elite divisions this season:
|Position||Player||Team||Goals x Factor||Points|
|1.||Gonzalo Higuain||Napoli||21 x 2||42.0|
|2.||Jonas||Benfica||19 x 2||38.0|
|T3.||Luis Suarez||Barcelona||18 x 2||36.0|
|T3.||Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang||Borussia Dortmund||18 x 2||36.0|
|T5.||Robert Lewandowski||Bayern Munich||17 x 2||34.0|
|T5.||Karim Benzema||Real Madrid||17 x 2||34.0|
|T7.||Alex Teixeira||Shakhtar Donetsk||22 x 1.5||33.0|
|T7.||Nemanja Nikolic||Legia Warsaw||22 x 1.5||33.0|
|T7.||Eran Zahavi||Maccabi Tel Aviv||22 x 1.5||33.0|
|T10.||Cristiano Ronaldo||Real Madrid||16 x 2||32.0|
|T10.||Neymar||Barcelona||16 x 2||32.0|
|T10.||Jamie Vardy||Leicester City||16 x 2||32.0|
|T10.||Islam Slimani||Sporting Lisbon||16 x 2||32.0|
Rules: Each division is attributed a difficulty constant (between one and two), which is then multiplied by the number of goals scored to produce a total.
For example, La Liga is considered among the most difficult leagues to score in, so Neymar's 16 goals are doubled to create his points tally of 32. By contrast, the Lithuanian top flight has a constant of one, meaning Tomas Radzinevicius’ 28 goals equate to 28 points.
Messi Blows Wind into Barca's Sails
Barcelona are yet to lose a game in which Messi has scored so far this season, and that trend continued on Saturday thanks to the Argentinian's match-winning goal against the Anchovies.
The forward's injury troubles are firmly in the rear-view mirror, and after bagging five in his last three Liga appearances, Messi's form suggests he's ready to mount an assault on the Golden Shoe's leading 10 scorers.
His tally of 11 for the league season means he's still seven goals off the top 10, but Messi's scoring frequency since his return from injury—he's got eight in his last nine league games—proves his comeback is well underway.
After salvaging a win for Luis Enrique's men on Saturday, Messi's contribution was praised by club and international team-mate Javier Mascherano, per South American broadcaster Juan Arango:
Mascherano: “A luxury to have Messi, like Suarez or Iniesta. When the team isn’t doing well, they give you the chance to win.” [@Carrusel]— Juan Arango (@JuanG_Arango) January 23, 2016
By the end of this season, it will have been three years since Messi last won the Golden Shoe, and although the odds are against him following a slow start, it's hardly outside his means to turn the tide in his favour.
Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo has won the award in the last two successive seasons, but after ending the Portuguese international's Ballon d'Or streak, reclaiming the Golden Shoe looks to be next on Messi's agenda.
Lewandowski Announces 2016 Return in Style
After almost a month away from the Bundesliga, Bayern frontman Lewandowski took little time in re-establishing himself as the German league's must-watch man on Friday after bagging twice in a slim win over Hamburg.
BT Sport posted footage of Lewandowski's opener against the Die Rothosen, with fellow attacking dynamo Thomas Muller playing a critical hand in both his team-mate's goals:
After converting from the penalty spot, the Poland striker bamboozled Hamburg's defence to guide home a Muller volley, playing the offside rule to perfection and showcasing the predatory instincts that make him such a threat.
After a winter break, Lewandowski is once again in the goal hunt, but Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri told Italian outlet Mediaset he wouldn't trade Higuain for Bayern's leading man (h/t Goal's Tom Webber):
"Higuain is becoming what I always thought he should be—in other words, the best striker in Europe and perhaps the world. Higuain is like a dog, devouring any chance he gets. I would not exchange him for anyone, not even Lewandowski."
Higuain's appetite may be insatiable at present, but Lewandowski will be looking to prove he has a greed of his own now that the German campaign is back underway.