In the history of the game, only Barcelona's Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or a record four times and successively at that from 2009-2013. It's no surprise then that he made it to the final shortlist again this time around.
One must bear in mind that though Messi spent sometime on the sidelines in the past year through injuries, he has still performed well enough to be shortlisted and stake a competitive claim for the prestigious individual award, which makes quite a statement.
Here's a look back at his top 5 performances in the year gone by:
1. La Liga game vs Osasuna
Date: 27 January 2013
Venue: Camp Nou
This was a match where Messi was at his clinical best and exhibited his predatory finishing. He scored the first after only 11 minutes, capitalizing on poor defending as he danced around the Osasuna keeper before slotting home. Raoul Loe briefly restored parity, but Alejandro Arribas' red card for a handball just before the half hour mark signaled the end of Osasuna's challenge, and allowed the Argentine to strike again from the penalty spot, making it 2-1.
Pedro then scored before David Villa picked out Messi who once again evaded keeper Fernandez’s tackle to finish off the move. The rampage was not complete as Barcelona still had time for another goal with Adriano crossing low into the area for the little Argentine to collect the ball, beat a man and slam home. He finished with 4 goals and once again reminded onlookers of his ever-present brilliance with the game ending 5-1 to the hosts.
2. UEFA Champions League vs. AC Milan
Date: 12 March 2013
Venue: Camp Nou
After being beaten by underdogs AC Milan 2-0 in the first leg of a Champions League round of 16 match, Barcelona were tipped for an early exit from the competition. When Milan visited the Camp Nou, up stepped Messi, the man who has so often inspired Barcelona.
Whatever hopes Milan had were dealt an early blow, with the forward linking up with Xavi and curling a beautiful effort into the corner five minutes into the game. Barcelona completely dominated proceedings and they were soon level courtesy of their number ten again.
Andres Iniesta played the ball to him on the edge of the box and Messi proceeded to guide it into the corner of the net. Barcelona did not take their foot off the gas in the second half and scored two more through Villa and Jordi Alba to make it 4-2, becoming the first ever team to recover from a 2-0 first leg scoreline. Messi’s goals had given his team the impetus they needed and once again performed when it really mattered.
3. World Cup Qualifier vs Venezuela
Date: 23 March 13
Venue: Estadio Antonio Vespucio Liberti - Beunos Aires
Messi was often criticized for not performing as well for his country as he does for his club. However, he has silenced those critics over the last couple of years on the international stage and this game was another example of him doing just that.
Along with Gonzalo Higuain in particular, Messi helped Argentina take a big step towards qualification for the 2014 World Cup with a 3-0 victory. The Barcelona wizard had the crowd on its feet in the first few minutes when he skipped in on goal but his shot was palmed away by Dani Hernandez.
Messi sliced the defense open with a through ball for Higuain, who slotted through the keeper. He then stepped up to score emphatically from the spot. The Barcelona man combined well with Higuain once again in the second half as the former played an inch-perfect through ball to the striker which he coolly finished.
Messi had also weaved through the defense gloriously on one occasion, only to have his shot saved. He finished the match with a goal and two assists, and Argentina finished four points clear of Colombia at the top of their CONMEBOL qualifying group.
4. La Liga game vs Real Betis
Date: 5 May 13
Venue: Camp Nou
Messi started this game on the bench, and would not have been happy to see his side go behind after just two minutes, with Doran Pabon scoring past Jose Pinto. This was the same week in which they had been humbled 3-0 by Bayern Munich and a reaction was expected from the Catalans.
Alexis Sanchez restored parity soon after but Barcelona were trailing once again when Pere smashed in a stunning shot from 30 yards out. After the break Messi was being readied to come on, and he watched from the sidelines as Villa finally managed to score and make it 2-2 in the 55th minute after missing a host of chances earlier on. Messi made his entrance in the 56th minute and instantly turned things around.
Despite not being fully fit, his very presence seemed to revitalize an otherwise below-par Barcelona side. Five minutes after coming on, he scored a majestic free-kick and was then denied by the woodwork, but guaranteed his side’s victory by finishing off a stunning team goal. Andres Iniesta’s flick, laid off by Sanchez to be finished by Messi.
5. UEFA Champions League vs. Ajax
Date: 18 May 13
Venue: Camp Nou
The Argentinian scored a superb Champions League hat-trick as Barcelona ran Ajax ragged in a 4-0 victory in their Group H opener at the Nou Camp. After being felled by Lerin Duarte after 22 minutes, he picked himself up and blasted a thunderous free-kick off the post past Ajax shot stopper Kenneth Vermeer.
The Dutch side had a couple of good chances which they didn’t take, and they were made to pay when Messi feinted his way through after receiving Sergio Busquets’ pass before firing past the helpless Vermeer. ‘La Pulga’ as he is lovingly called completed his hat-trick by dribbling his way into the box before rolling the ball home. Ajax went on to miss a penalty in the closing stages but it was all for naught as Barcelona’s golden boy stole the show again.
Despite Messi’s statistics in 2013 not being as impressive as those he recorded in 2012, when he scored a record 91 goals for club and country, it is important to note that he was injured on three separate occasions, the last hamstring injury in November 2013 ruling him out till mid-January 2014, causing him to miss a lot of games.
Someone whose brilliance continues to shine even if he isn't at his best really is special. He may be facing stiff competition this year with Ronaldo and Ribery each staking their own unique claims but few would rule him out.