Lionel Messi

The chart that shows Lionel Messi is having an outstanding season - again

The Argentine's numbers might have started slowly, but in the last few weeks his actuals are catching up with his expected numbers

7:16pm on Sunday 10th January 2021
Paul Macdonald

Lionel Messi has his smile back once again.

The 33-year-old has scored a pair of braces this week in two extremely impressive Barcelona away wins. Ronald Koeman's team are finally clicking and, though they have plenty of ground to make up, have at least closed the gap on La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid.

There was much clamour earlier in the season about how Messi was dropping off and entering the end of his career. And his actual numbers were down, there's no doubt about that. Penalty kicks were keeping him above water.

And it's also true that Messi was, unquestionably, unhappy. The request he made to be transferred highlighted his dissatisfaction with the direction the club were heading. And his attitude made its way onto the pitch.

But in the last month or so, things have changed. The emergence of 18-year-old Pedri as a gloriously effective prodigy has helped. But Messi looks happier now than he did at any point in 2020.

And just look at the below chart, showing the expected goals v expected assists P90 for La Liga in 2020/21.

There's plenty of conclusions to make; Bryan Gil, on loan from Sevilla to Eibar, is turning into a high-class creator. Gerard Moreno is getting on the end of good opportunities. And Iago Aspas remains one of the best all-round players in Spain.

But the main one sits in the top right corner. No-one is even close to Messi in Spanish football. He continues to be the ultimate creator and goalscorer and now that he is back among the goals properly, he's only going to get better.

Messi's shot volume was vast and, when breaking down his chances, he could count himself unfortunate. Heroic blocks, crossbars, posts, fantastic goalkeeper saves - he's been denied quite a lot.

But now those efforts are hitting the target. His second goal against Athletic was swerved in off the crossbar, while against Granada on Saturday, his curling finish was vintage Messi - and that was before he broke his free-kick duck.

And the main reason you know Messi's happy? Boss Ronald Koeman subbed him on the hour mark, something that never happens. He walked off, shook the Dutchman's hand, and sat down with a feeling of content. His future may remain wholly unclear, but there's still a long shelf life on the best player in the world.

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