It’s not over til the fat senorita sings… the La Liga title race is going down to the wire and there’s one man to thank.
Lionel Messi was at his devastating best as Barcelona emerged from the Bernabeu with three points on Sunday, exploding the battle to be Spain’s top dog into life.
The Argentinian wizard scored twice, including a dramatic late winner which he celebrated silently in front of a sea of furious Real fans, holding his shirt up to the skies as if it were Simba in the opening scenes of the Lion King, making sure everyone recognised just how important he still is to his team. And to the league. Hell, to football worldwide.
Because, in some quarters, Messi’s performances this season have not been up to scratch. Or at least, they’ve not been perfect. And when you make turn flawless into the norm, there’s not much room for error.
But Messi remains integral to Barcelona. Without him, even with Neymar and Luis Suarez, they are so much poorer.
The stats that emerged around his 500 goals for the club – the most recent of which came against Real – illustrate that perfectly.
When Messi scores, Barca more often than not win.
Of the 317 games in which he has found the back of the net, the Catalans have emerged victorious on 275 occasions. That’s a whopping 86.7 per cent.
And just 12 times has a Messi goal been in vain.
Twelve times out of 317 – a stark illustration of just how formidable a talisman he has been for the Nou Camp club down the years, as if anybody really needed any convincing.
In another show-stealing cameo at the Bernabeu last weekend, it was not just Messi’s goals that hogged the limelight.
He was also the creator, making 34 completed passes and and taking on players on seven occasions, drawing six fouls. One of which ended with Sergio Ramos being sent off, a crucial development in the overall direction of the game.
He ended the night as the top Clasico goalscorer of all time, with 24, outstripping even the great Alfredo Di Stefano.
And there were some who suggested he was on the wane.
With Messi firing, Barcelona still have hope. They are level on points prior to Wednesday night’s fixture card and now hold the edge in the head-to-head record between the sides which could decide the destination of the La Liga trophy.
Zinedine Zidane must take his team to Celta Vigo in their spare match and, as Barca well know, a visit to Balaidos can be an uncomfortable experience. A slip-up is not only plausible it is mighty, mighty possible.
And if Real do falter, Barcelona are ready and waiting.
Messi is ready and waiting. As good as he has ever been, unwilling to fade into the twilight.