The Catalans have clinched their eighth Liga title in 11 seasons, thanks in no small part to the continuing excellence of their No.10
When Lionel Messi placed fifth in last year’s Ballon d’Or, he was as classy in his response as he is on the field.
“It is always the case in football that the team collective is more important than the individual,” he told Diario Sport.
But anyone who has watched him play this season would suggest the snub started a fire in his belly, with his exceptional form having allowed Barcelona to cruise to a second successive Liga title – not to mention the final of the Copa del Rey, and the last four of the Champions League.
The Argentine turns 32 in the summer, but he’s showing no signs of slowing down, with 34 goals and 15 assists putting him top of both charts in La Liga.
Messi may have suggested that he misses the domestic competition of Cristiano Ronaldo, with his former Real Madrid rival having moved to Juventus last summer, but the Portuguese’s departure clearly hasn’t affected the No.10’s motivation.
The Barcelona skipper has helped his side dominate La Liga from start to finish – the Catalans have been top since week 14.
Messi himself is set to clinch the Trofeo Pichichi for the third successive season, with Luis Suarez and Karim Benzema, on 21 goals, some way behind his tally of 34.
In the race for the European Golden Shoe, only Kylian Mbappe, with 30 strikes, is anywhere near him as he eyes up a record sixth prize.
“It is always important to improve individually, but this is in light of the collective,” Messi said earlier this season.
“It is only important if you can help your team and be more successful on the pitch.”
He’s certainly done that. The forward’s goals alone have been worth 17 points for Barcelona – the difference between the Blaugrana topping the La Liga table rather than trailing Atletico Madrid in second.
He’s been directly involved in 56 per cent of their 86 goals scored – with particular highlights his hat-trick and two assists in the 5-0 win at Levante, and his hat-trick and assist in the 4-2 victory against Sevilla.
But it would be harsh to ignore the fact that Barcelona have been so strong in Messi’s absence, too.
The 5-1 victory over Real Madrid in October was a turning point in the season, even at that early point in the season.
“[Messi] is the best in the world, always a plus,” Suarez said after the win, in which he scored Barcelona’s first non-Messi hat-trick in the Clasico since Romario.
“But what we’ve done is shown the level of football this team is capable of. We’re behind the manager and we love the club.”
His comments came amidst plenty of doubts over Valverde’s future, an unspectacular yet reliable figure in the Barcelona dugout.
While the Blaugrana stuck by their man, their victory in the Clasico spelled the end for Julen Lopetegui at Real Madrid after just 14 games in charge.
As chaos continued to surround Los Blancos, Barcelona’s sparkling season continued to put them to shame.
While Valverde’s side target three trophies, Madrid have now had three coaches, with Zinedine Zidane returning after Santiago Solari’s failed attempt to resurrect their season.
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Barcelona now lead the all-time head-to-head in El Clasico, and this season became the first Liga side to win four in a row at the Bernabeu.
It will be all that bit sweeter to the Camp Nou faithful that, while setting Spain alight this season, they’ve also made a mockery of their biggest rivals.
“They are paying the price for thinking that they could get results without Cristiano Ronaldo,” Fabio Capello said of Madrid earlier this season.
In fact, only Benzema has stepped up for the 2016-17 La Liga champions this season, who, as a result, are set for a massive overhaul this summer.
Ronaldo has set his own records this season, most recently by becoming the first player to win the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.
But after crashing out in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Coppa Italia, Ronaldo has only a league title – and the Supercoppa Italiana – to show for his debut season in Turin.
Messi and Barcelona, meanwhile, could be just a third of the way through their trophy return this season, and that is primarily due to their magical Argentine.
“I would like to have an assortment of words, but what can I say about Leo?” Valverde asked the press earlier this season.
“He is breaking all the records, and those he will still beat. He makes the public always expect something special from him, and he delivers it.
“We know what he is, what he means from a global point of view and we are enjoying that.”
Champions of Spain is a fantastic and well-deserved achievement, but Champions of Europe is the title Barcelona crave again – and Messi is in the form to deliver it.