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The Argentine's hat-trick in the 4-0 win at Viktoria Plzen in the Champions League on Tuesday night brought up an incredible double century for Leo - at the age of just 24

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor

On a night of landmarks for Barcelona, Lionel Messi stood out once more. Pep Guardiola was taking charge of his 200th game as coach of the Catalan club and, in it, goalkeeper Victor Valdes beat Miguel Reina's long-standing record for the number of successive minutes without conceding a goal (824), while at the other end of the pitch, Barca's final strike in the 4-0 victory brought up 500 goals under their 40-year-old boss.

As usual, however, Messi eclipsed all of that.

The Argentine made it 500 under Pep with that final strike right at the end as he scored his second successive hat-trick - and 13th in all for Barcelona - but it was his first goal that was of more personal significance as he reached the 200-goal mark for the Catalan club.

And having missed a penalty at home to Sevilla recently, it will have been satisfying for Messi to have arrived at his double century by converting from the spot.

Pep talks bring goals | Messi has thrived under Guardiola

Having added a second just before the interval and then a third late on, the 24-year-old is now just 33 behind the club's all-time top goalscorer, Cesar Rodriguez, a Barca hero from the 1940s and 1950s. Indeed, at such a tender age, he seems certain to smash that total - and Guardiola believes he may even do so this season.

Pep has been a fundamental figure in Messi's evolution from talented winger to world-beater over the last three years. When Guardiola took over as coach, the Argentine had scored an impressive 42 goals in 110 games. Since then, however, Messi has notched 160 in 176 - a record unrivalled in modern-day football.

"When I came here, I knew I had to put him closer to the area," Guardiola explained after Tuesday's win in Prague. "And I knew he had to play in the middle.

Indeed, since the departure of Samuel Eto'o in the summer of 2009, Messi has operated almost exclusively as a false nine, terrorising opposition defences from a starting point where he can do the most damage: the centre. And 122 goals in 125 games are testament to that fact.



Season La Liga
Copa CL Other
All comps
2004-05 7/1 1/0 1/0 0/0 9/1
2005-06 17/6 2/1 6/1 0/0 25/8
2006-07 26/14 2/2 5/1 3/0 36/17
2007-08 28/10 3/0 9/6 0/0 40/16
2008-09 31/23 8/6 12/9 0/0 51/38
2009-10 35/34 3/1 11/8 4/4 53/47
2010-11 33/31 7/7 13/12 2/3 55/53
2011-12 10/13 0/0 4/5 3/4 17/22
187/132 26/17 61/42 12/11 286/202

Messi's maturity as a player, his development physically and his ability to avoid injury have all played their part in the Argentine's astonishing ascent as well. And so have his team-mates. "I couldn't do it without them," the player himself revealed earlier this week.

His critics actually believe that to be the case, pointing to the forward's less impressive form for Argentina, a team with no Xavi and no Andres Iniesta. But Barca have played their last two matches without their two midfield maestros - and Messi has scored six in that time.

La Liga
Copa del
Champions League
Spanish Supercopa Uefa Super Cup
Club World Cup
17 42

The Argentine has netted consistently in all competitions for Barca and is on course for his best-ever return in 2011-12, having racked up 22 goals in 17 games already. And with another 40 or more to come in La Liga, the Copa del Rey, Champions League and Club World Cup, he looks on course to surpass Cesar.

A look at how his goals were scored is interesting, too, with just over 80 per cent converted with his strongest foot, the left, and 32 - including his Diego Maradona-esque run from the halfway line against Getafe in 2007 - with his right. Seven were headers, notably the second strike for Barca in the 2009 Champions League Final win over Manchester United, while one was netted with his chest and another, in the 2-2 draw at home to Espanyol in 2007, with his hand, evoking more comparisons with Maradona.

Left foot
Right foot
Chest Hand
32 7

And having won everything in sight, both individually and with his club side, the only thing really left for Messi to achieve is World Cup glory with Argentina. That, however, does not depend solely on the Barca forward, and it would surely be unfair to judge a player on a handful of games every four years in a team also relying on 10 other individuals.

Such success may be out of his hands, but nothing should surprise with Messi. He may have won almost everything, but he'll want to win it all again and again and again. And although he won't say it publicly, he would love to be considered the best in history, too.

In an interview with France Football this week, the Argentine spoke of surpassing Michel Platini by winning four Ballon d'Or trophies (he currently has two), while claiming he has never seen the 'extraordinary' talents of Pele because the Brazilian "hasn't sent me his DVD yet ..."

Pele famously scored over 1000 goals - of which 760 were official strikes - in a glittering career. But Messi, in seven-and-a-bit seasons, already has more than 200. His will be some DVD, too. Luckily, though, there's still plenty of time to enjoy his talents yet.

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