[BARCELONA-MAN UNITED] If Barcelona beats Manchester United on Saturday (TV: Fox, 2:45 pm ET kickoff), Lionel Messi says he won't care whether he scores or not. But the odds are pretty good that the Argentine will hit the net. And while statistics don't come close to telling the whole story of Messi's brilliance, they say a lot.
Messi has scored 11 goals in 12 Champions League games this season. He struck 31 times to help Barcelona earn its third straight La Liga crown. In all competitions, he scored 52 goals in 54 games.
Asked during the buildup to Saturday’s final the secret of his incredible strike rate the past year -- up from a paltry 38 and 47 in the past two years -- Messi replied:
“I’ve gotten older and more experienced. Many situations on the grass I’ve already experienced, and have profited from that.”
That from a man who turns 24 next month.
“I make smarter decisions,” Messi said. “I know what I’m capable of, and that makes a big difference. I’m playing with incredible self-confidence. During a game I have crazy ideas in the head and am confident enough to turn them into something.”
So we see Messi score in every possible way. After slaloming through a mass of defenders. Bending free kicks. Sublimely chipping the ball over charging goalkeepers. Poking home one of his teammate's precise passes from close-range. Long-range rockets.
And, yes, even with his head, as in the Barcelona’s 2-0 Champions League final win over Manchester United in 2009 when he beat Rio Ferdinand, who stands nearly 8 inches taller than the 5-foot-7 Messi, to the ball.
He scored his first goal for Barcelona at age 17 and his total of 179 goals leaves him trailing only Ladislao Kubala (194) and Cesar Rodriguez (235) on Barcelona’s all-time scoring list.
In the 2010-11 La Liga season, Messi also made 19 assists, which means he scored or set up more than half the team's goals.
Messi has led Champions League scorers for three straight seasons. If he scores on Saturday, he’ll tie Ruud van Nistelrooy’s record of Champions League goals in a season with 12.
Manchester United has conceded only four goals in its 12 Champions League games this season. But on Saturday it faces Messi and his crazy ideas.
33-31 La Liga
7-7 Spanish Cup
2-3 Spanish Super Cup
12-11 UEFA Champions League