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As Barcelona crumbled around him Lionel Messi finished as top scorer and broke Xavi’s assist record

Lionel Messi gave the rest of LaLiga a five-game head start and still out scored everyone, producing one of his worst seasons and yet still somehow a campaign that left everybody trailing in his wake. 

The Argentine won’t be around to lift the club forever and Barcelona are now eyeing up the next generation to take them forward in the future, with president Josep Bartomeu promising a ‘takeover’ of youngsters to give the senior names more support. 

Messi missed the first four games through injury, coming on at half time against Granada at the end of September. That match was one of five away defeats for Barcelona, they were already 1-0 down when he came on and ended up losing 2-0.

It was in his first home game of the season that he played in Antoine Griezmann with the first of his 21 assists – so much for not helping out the new signing.

He was taken off in the second half of that game with more muscle problems and missed the next match against Getafe. But he was back to face Sevilla in the following match and he finally got off the mark with one of those unstoppable free-kicks against Sevilla.

He had never left it so late to score his first of the season, it was October 6, but those who had stolen a march on him would soon be caught. He made it two goals in two games when he scored against Eibar in the next round of fixtures.

In the next against Valladolid there was an extraordinary assist for Arturo Vidal – a lofted pass into the Chilean’s path, and then another for Luis Suarez, putting GPS on a pass through a crowded penalty area.

And he scored twice himself – one of the goals was another postage-stamped free-kick, his 50th in a Barca shirt, the second was a brilliant thigh control, spin and shot.

At the start of November he got his first hat-trick of the season and it wasn’t just an ordinary hat-trick – the second and third goals were stunning free-kicks against Celta Vigo. Players were now lying down behind walls and sprinting back to mark posts, in a usually failed effort to stop his set-pieces finding the net.

And Messi wasn’t just bullying weaker rivals. Barcelona were struggling to break down Atletico Madrid away from home and who was it who popped up six minutes from time to get the winner? Who else?

‘The difference once more was that they had Messi and we didn’t,’ said Diego Simeone as he has so many times before.

Messi scored his second treble of the season at the start of December against Mallorca. He showed off his latest Golden Ball prize at the start of the game and then showed everyone why he had won it again. Bish, bash, bosh three more ‘golazos’.

There was no joy against Real Madrid in the first Clasico of the season. He waved the magic wand left foot to tee-up Jordi Alba but, like everyone else that evening in December, he fired a blank.

In the next game he continued his one man Goal of the Season contest with an effort from outside the area in a win over Alaves.

As the goals kept flying in there were still worrying signs all around him that this Barcelona team was not fit for the purpose of winning the league. They surrendered a late lead away to bottom club Espanyol at the start of the year.

They were still top when Ernesto Valverde was sacked and Messi had to take to social media when sporting director Eric Abidal hinted that he had been responsible for the change.

In Quique Setien’s first game in charge, who got the new coach out of jail late on with the only goal of the game? Who else?

Nothing improved under Setien – arguably things got worse. There was a 2-0 defeat away at Valencia but Messi scored four against Eibar at the end of February to keep the title charge on track.

When Real Madrid beat Barcelona in the Clasico and looked to be in control of the title race it was a Messi penalty in the next game against Real Sociedad that sent Barca into lockdown on top of LaLiga again.

He scored in the first game back but then failed to score in three as his side dropped four points. The assists kept coming however, including one back-heeled pass to Griezmann against Villarreal and he beat Xavi’s record for assists in one season with 21.

With Karim Benzema closing in for the top-scorer ‘Pichichi’ award Messi found another gear in the final game of the season at the weekend to make it 25 goals and an unprecedented seventh top scorer in Spain award.

Okay so 25 goals is no match for the 36, 34 and 37 he scored in the previous three seasons to claim the prize. And it certainly doesn’t touch the 50 he scored in 2011-12 but you can only top-score in the league you’re in.

Yes Benzema had a great season but even against perhaps the ‘worst’ Messi for a decade he was second best. No one has won the top scorer prize in Spain with such a low tally since Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2007. Messi has won it seven times since then – no one has ever done that.

Yes he was below par in the 2019-20 season; but yes he was brilliant, and better than the rest, again.

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