Is Lionel Messi the best ever? For many, the answer is yes. The much discussed debate of the world’s best player rages on in the wake of Messi’s record breaking Champions League performance. Two more goals followed in Barcelona’s win over Racing Santander on Sunday night, making it seven goals in two games for Messi with many arguing his case against the likes of Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane as ‘the’ greatest. Hazy criteria and fuzzy footage of days gone by, coupled with the limitations of the modern game will dampen Messi’s claim but he will go down as Barcelona’s greatest player in just a matter of games. Five more goals, or perhaps one Champions League game, are needed to break the club’s scoring record held by César Rodríguez, and alongside his longevity, Messi will surely be classed as Barca’s best.
Very rarely are Real Madrid pushed so hard by a team other than Barcelona or Valencia, but Betis gave everything they had and deserved more than then a 3-2 defeat on Saturday night. Madrid were below par and Betis regularly troubled the league leaders, but this game proved how much better the Premier League still is than La Liga. A Real victory was highly probable even when Betis pulled it back to 2-2 and two strong penalty appeals were turned away. Conversely, Manchester United have lost to Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United while Manchester City suffered a shock defeat by Swansea City on Sunday. The English top flight has greater depth, and it’s unpredictability trumps Spain’s nearly men.
United were expected to swat aside Athletic Bilbao on Thursday, but a stern reality check was delivered to Sir Alexx Ferguson’s side. Marco Bielsa’s men tore apart United in a 3-2 first leg win for the Basque side which will have done the Europa League the power of good. Yet, despite being hugely talented, and now favourites to progress in Europe, the extraordinary success of Bielsa’s team could backfire spectacularly. In truth, Bilbao will do well to win the tournament which includes several strong contenders and they are tipped to finish runners-up to Barcelona in the Spanish Cup in May. Alongside their fight for trophies, Bilbao are on the cusp of Champions League qualification but could falter due to other commitments – highlighted by their defeat at Osasuna on Sunday, which would be a huge shame for Los Leones.
Diego Simeone has transformed Atlético Madrid into a very difficult side to beat as the capital’s second club subjected Granada to a 2-0 loss on Sunday. He has changed the fortunes of a team who were stuttering and whose European status next season looked in doubt. But since the Argentine took charge in December, Atletico have lost just one of his 12 games in charge – and that was to Barcelona. Having succumbed to a humiliating cup exit at the hands of lowly Albacete, Simeone replaced the unpopular Gregorio Manzano, and he has injected the team with plenty of rigour, as seen in the Granada display which was far from pretty. Madrid won ugly in a game which under a previous regime would have quite easily been a draw or a defeat.
Work permit issues proved the barrier between Brazilian striker Henrique linking up with Mark Hughes’ outfit, and he showed similar credentials to QPR’s other signings by getting himself sent off in the defeat to Atlético. Like Djibril Cissé, Joey Barton and Samba Diakité, Henrique received a red for Granada for a two footed challenge in the 83rd minute. Apart from wearing the blue and white hoops of Rangers, Henrique is doing everything a new QPR signing has done so far. Maybe he’s pushing for a summer transfer?
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