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The Argentine struck twice in a flattering 4-1 win at Zaragoza on Saturday to reach another personal milestone - and Jose Mourinho's men must now react with a win over Valencia

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor

There are no eulogies left. Arsene Wenger once compared Lionel Messi to a computer console, while Pep Guardiola gave up trying to find the words to laud Leo a long time ago. And earlier this week, Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella claimed a new adjective was necessary for his most prized player.

So with vocabulary vanquished, Messi has let his numbers do the talking in 2011-12.

The 24-year-old was below his breathtaking best in a flattering 4-1 win at Zaragoza on Saturday, but the game was disputed on a poor pitch at La Romareda, and without the rested Xavi and Andres Iniesta, Leo's perennial partners in crime. And yet he still scored twice, taking his total to the season to a sumptuous 60 strikes in 50 games - with at least 10 more matches still to come.

Barcelona have now won their last 10 league games and look to be coming good just when it matters. The last time they had started a Primera Division match without their entire first-choice midfield, the Catalans went down 3-2 at Osasuna. Not this time, though.

As in Pamplona, a slipshod start saw Barca behind in the first half, that after Victor Valdes had saved a penalty from Carlos Aranda. But after Carles Puyol took advantage of a goalkeeping gaffe from Roberto Jimenez to make it 1-1, up popped Messi.

LIONEL MESSI | 60 GOALS IN 2011-12
La
Liga
Champions League
Copa del
Rey

Spanish Supercopa
Uefa Super Cup
Club World Cup
38
(30 games)
14
(9 games)
2
(6 games)
3
(2 games)
1
(1 game)
2
(2 games)


The Argentine turned Paulo Da Silva inside out in the area and lashed a left-footed drive past Roberto and into the top corner for a goal which was essentially the winner, even though he himself added a penalty four minutes from the end and set up Pedro for a fourth in added time.

So four more goals for Barca and the Catalans have upped their game just when it matters. Messi too. The 24-year-old has played at an extraordinary level all season, but 23 goals in his last 12 games are testament to his peak in performance at the business end of the campaign.

Winning La Liga had appeared a distant dream just a few weeks ago, but the seemingly insurmountable deficit of 10 points at the top of the table has now been reduced to three units ahead of Real Madrid's game at Valencia on Sunday. For Mourinho's men, the pressure is well and truly on, and they can ill afford to drop any more points before the two teams meet in what looks set to be a crucial Clasico at Camp Nou later this month.

CRISTIANO RONALDO | 49 AND COUNTING
La
Liga
Champions
League
Copa del
Rey

Spanish
Supercopa
37
(30 games)
8
(8 games)
3
(5 games)
1
(2 games)

Madrid have their own talisman, of course. Cristiano Ronaldo's numbers are similarly sensational and the Portuguese has hit 49 goals in 45 games, at a strike rate of 1.09 per game compared to Messi's 1.2. The Argentine has already smashed last season's total of 53; Ronaldo is set to do the same, having accumulated an identical number in 2010-11.

But both admit that individual records and accolades come second. Titles come first, although only one of these two tremendous talents can claim La Liga. And if, as everybody expected just a few weeks ago, it is to be Real Madrid, Ronaldo must match Messi in the run-in, starting at home to Valencia on Sunday, and then in the derby against Atletico in midweek. It's set to be quite a climax after all.

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