The turnaround is as dramatic as it was unexpected. Last Saturday, Real Madrid sat proudly on top of La Liga with a healthy four-point lead over Barcelona as Cristiano Ronaldo led the race for the Pichichi prize. But fast-forward just over a week and it’s the Catalans on top, while Lionel Messi has caught the Portuguese in the scoring charts.
Madrid’s failure to beat Villarreal at home last Sunday saw their advantage cut to two points after Barca had won at Granada. And Luis Enrique’s men made it a week to remember (having already advanced to the final of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday) as they thrashed Rayo Vallecano 6-1 at Camp Nou on Sunday to complete a remarkable revival after Athletic Club had beaten Real on Saturday.
And Messi, as usual, played a pivotal part. The Argentine attacker scored an 11-minute hat-trick (the fastest of his career) to overtake Ronaldo for Liga triples (he now has a record 24) and move level with the Portuguese on 30 Primera Division goals in 2014-15. Back in late November, Messi had netted only seven in La Liga to Cristiano’s 20, but in 2015 it is the Barca forward on form as the Madeiran struggles to replicate the performances he produced prior to the winter break.
With 26 rounds of La Liga now played by the two rivals, Barca lead the way with 62 points, one more than Madrid and with the Clasico at Camp Nou still to come later this month.
“We have earned it,” Luis Enrique said afterwards. “I don’t usually talk about our rivals but what I will say is that every match and every victory is complicated. Our objective is to be leaders at the end of the championship.”
After a slow start to the season and some teething problems initially under the Asturian coach, the Catalans appear to be peaking at just the right time in the race for the title.
Likewise Leo. While Ronaldo scored for fun in the early months of the campaign, Messi took time to find his best form as Luis Enrique experimented, but the Argentine is now on fire and has netted 18 goals to Ronaldo’s seven in all competitions in 2015.
“Messi’s attitude has been the same since day one and that extends to his team-mates too,” the Barca boss said after the Argentine made it 15 in La Liga this year to Ronaldo’s five.