Pep Guardiola’s former assistant at Barcelona, Domenec Torrent, recently claimed that Lionel Messi was such an intelligent footballer that, “in a few years, he could play like Xavi if he wanted to.”

In truth, Messi is already playing like Xavi, at least in terms of prising open defences with precision passing.

On Saturday, in a rather forgettable 1-0 win at Real Valladolid, the Argentine did something truly memorable.

In slipping Arturo Vidal through to score the only goal of the game, Messi became the first player to reach 20 assists in a Liga season since Xavi in 2008-09.

Think about that for a second: Messi has just matched a mark set by arguably the greatest passing midfielder of all time.

And in doing so, he also became the only player other than Arsenal legend Thierry Henry in 2002-03 to both score and create 20 goals in a single campaign across Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues.

It merely adds validity to Gary Lineker’s claim that Messi wasn’t just the best goalscorer the game had ever seen, but also its best passer.

Of course, despite the 33-year-old’s heroics, Barcelona look set to hand over their Liga crown to Real Madrid.

They may have closed to within a point of the table-toppers with victory at Valladolid but, in truth, the game merely underlined why the Blaugrana have gone from leading the way to playing catch-up over the past fortnight.

Messi’s moment of magic aside, there was once again little to get excited about from a Barcelona perspective. They played only in patches, lacked energy in the second half and looked shaky at the back.  Continue reading

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