Golden boy Messi shining as Barca aims to end year on high note

GERMAN PRESS AGENCY - DPA
BARCELONA
Published 20.12.2018 21:56
Updated 21.12.2018 08:00

With their talisman-like forward Lionel Messi in sensational form, Barcelona are aiming to finish an impressive 2018 on a high note as they host Celta Vigo on Saturday.

The Catalan league leaders have lost just three league games in the calendar year, winning last season's title in May and completing the double by adding the Spanish Cup.

Messi struck 34 goals in the previous campaign and won the European Golden Shoe, which he was given this week at a ceremony in the Catalan capital.

The forward is on his way to winning the prize for a third consecutive season, leading the scoring charts across the continent's major leagues this term with 14 goals.

Messi's stunning form helped Barcelona regain top spot from Sevilla by thrashing Espanyol and then he netted a hat-trick at Levante - the only team to beat the Blaugrana last season.

If the Argentine fires again against Celta Barca could extend their three-point lead at the top of the table from second place Sevilla and third place Atletico Madrid, both on 31 points each. Messi and Barcelona have dominated Spanish domestic football in the last decade, winning seven of the last 10 titles, while the forward has earned five Golden Shoes.

"This is thanks to hard work, effort and, above all, my team-mates," said Messi. "I have the best players in the world in their positions playing beside me and that makes everything easier and allows me to win these prizes."

The striker's form and the return of Luis Suarez from injury has helped Barcelona build momentum in their title defense and defender Gerard Pique is upset about the winter break which begins after the Celta Vigo clash at Camp Nou.

"We've been in a very positive vein of form in the last few games and it's a shame that the Christmas break is coming, because we've found our speed," said the defender, who scored in last weekend's 5-0 rout of Levante.

"In the last few games we were playing better, conceding fewer and scoring lots of goals. It's very positive. We're better in defense and we're playing very good football." Messi and Suarez have hit 25 goals between them in the top flight this season, more than all the other teams have managed in total bar Sevilla, Levante and opponents Celta Vigo.

Miguel Cardoso's side could not break down Leganes last Friday in a disappointing 0-0 draw but the team are confident ahead of the trip east. "We are preparing for the trip with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of hope and we will go there to try and pick up the three points," said midfielder Fran Beltran. "It doesn't matter who we have to play against."

Atletico Madrid host Espanyol earlier Saturday as they bid to put pressure on the leaders by pulling level on 34 points.

Diego Simeone's side have stabilized after some shaky form and will try to take advantage of an Espanyol side who have fallen heavily after an impressive start.

Second in October but now 11th, Rubi's team have lost five league games running.

"I'm convinced that we will come out of this, we have played well and we will play well again," said the coach.

Real Madrid, fourth, are not in action as they play the Club World Cup final against Al Ain on Saturday. The weekend's other matches are Girona vs. Getafe, Real Sociedad vs. Alaves, Real Betis vs. Eibar, Athletic Bilbao vs. Valladolid, Valencia vs. Huesca, Leganes vs. Sevilla and Rayo Vallecano vs. Levante.

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