LaLiga champions again, Barcelona owe much to Lionel Messi, who was once more the undisputed star of their title-winning season.
Barcelona are LaLiga champions for the eight time in 11 seasons after completing a 1-0 victory over Levante and there can be no doubt who has been their star man.
11th straight season in which #Messi has scored 20 @LaLigaEN goals.— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) 2 February 2019
2018/19 (20, for now...)
Lionel Messi has once again led the way, scoring 34 times – including the decisive strike from off the bench on Saturday – and setting up another 13 in 32 appearances, while also making the difference with numerous late goals.
At the age of 31, the Argentina superstar's role has changed a little and Ernesto Valverde has done his best to afford him rests where possible.
That certainly appears to have aided Messi's productivity. He is thus far averaging a goal every 73.1 minutes, and if that figure were to remain, it would be the second most effective full campaign of his career.
But how does this season compare to Messi's other nine LaLiga-winning years?
2004-05 – 7 appearances, 1 goal
Brief cameo appearances off the bench in 2004-05 saw Messi introduced to LaLiga and he got his first goal against Albacete towards the end of the season, with Barca winning LaLiga. It was the start of his story, with many excited by the frightening potential shown by the teenager.
2005-06 – 17 appearances, 6 goals
Messi's first full season as a squad player in Barca's senior side brought his second league title. Of his 17 league outings, 11 were from the start and he was involved in eight goals, scoring six himself. Even at this early stage in his career he looked incredibly well-rounded, converting 15.79 per cent of his chances and recording a passing accuracy of 81.64 per cent.
2008-09 – 31 appearances, 23 goals
After two seasons without the title, Barca reclaimed their crown in 2009 as part of a remarkable treble, with Messi scoring 38 times across all competitions to display his status as the main man at Camp Nou. In LaLiga he netted 23 goals and registered 11 assists, averaging 1.09 goal involvements per match and finished off 20.54 per cent of his shots. Undoubtedly an impressive campaign individually, but, as we have since come to realise, it was only the tip of the iceberg.
2009-10 – 35 appearances, 34 goals
It was around the turn of the decade that people were beginning to realise the once-in-a-lifetime talent Messi is. The Argentinian seemingly became more ruthless, taking 163 shots – 49 more than the previous season – and that equated to an 11-goal increase, while he also laid on 10 assists. Although appearing to be more selfish in front of goal, he was still teeing up team-mates.
2010-11 – 33 appearances, 31 goals
The 2010-11 campaign was another momentous one for Barca, as they won LaLiga – for the third season in a row – and the Champions League. Messi's role seemed to become even more all-encompassing, as he achieved another impressive 31-goal haul domestically, but his assists record increased massively to 18. Messi had become as much a playmaker as finisher, attempting 2,233 passes – 684 more than 2009-10 – and his completion rate also went up, from 85.73 per cent to 86.16.
2012-13 – 32 appearances, 46 goals
Scoring 50 goals from 37 games in 2011-12 was truly incredible, yet in some ways Messi was even better the following season, despite scoring four fewer. In 2012-13, he averaged 1.44 goals per game (up from 1.35), his best campaign ever in that regard, and also laid on 12 assists. There was evidence he had cast off playmaking duties, attempting a decreased 1,759 passes, and that could explain his increased decisiveness, which was highlighted by a career-best 28.22 per cent conversion rate. His record of a goal every 56.98 minutes is also the best he has ever managed in a LaLiga season.
2014-15 – 38 appearances, 43 goals
After something of a dip with just 28 goals in 2013-14 under Tata Martino, Messi was back to his best the following year as Barca won another treble with Luis Enrique at the helm. He had a hand in 61 league goals (43 scored, 18 assisted) and again became a central figure - his 2,333 attempted passes an increase of almost 1,000 from Martino's solitary campaign. He may have only had an extra 27 shots, but his shot conversion went up significantly from 17.5 to 22.99.
2015-16 – 33 appearances, 26 goals
In terms of goals, 2015-16 was Messi's most disappointing season since 2008-09, scoring 26 times in 33 games. That was reflected by a 16.46 chance conversion percentage, his worst since 2007-08 (14.71 per cent), while his average of a goal every 104.92 minutes was the biggest in seven years. Nevertheless, Messi did get 0.48 assists per game, making it the second-best season of his career in that regard after 2010-11 (0.55).
2017-18 – 36 appearances, 34 goals
Messi was, once again, the inspiration last season as Barca wrestled their crown back from Real Madrid, teeing up 12 goals and scoring 34 himself, find the net every 88.12 minutes. With only 17.26 per cent of his shots going in, Messi could have been even better in front of goal, though there's an argument he compensated with more attempts, trying his luck 197 times, just five fewer than his career-high 202 six years earlier.