Man Utd masterclass moves Messi into Ballon d'Or pole

Messi's exhibition against the Premier League side moved Barça into the Champions League last four

 El argentino mandó un misil imparable al fondo de la portería de De Gea | MEDIAPRO

A clear path for Leo. There are games that mark a season and in the same way that the disaster in Roma marked Messi last season, Juventus' debacle against Ajax marked Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Ballon d'Or. Not just that, but as the Old Lady exited Europe, Messi was taking out Manchester United with his umpteenth recital. 

Toni Juanmartí

@tjuanmarti

"We're going to do everything possible to bring this beatiful, desired trophy back to Camp Nou." Those were Messi's words in August when he took on the captaincy. He was referring to the Champions League. It was a brief but clear message. In April, Ernesto Valverde's side are three games away from conquering Europe after knocking out Lyon and United. 

With La Liga in the pocket the Copa del Rey final against Valencia will be a battle. And in the Champions League, any small detail will mark Barça's destiny in the semifinal. For good or for bad. What is now a reality, though, is that Messi's on track to his sixth Ballon d'Or. Ronaldo's KO makes him the big favourite, which would see him pull clear of the Portugal star. They've both won five. 

Messi, más cerca de 'recuperar' el Balón de Oro | EFE

"Now it's my turn," was the title of Argentine newspaper Ole on Wednesday in reference to Messi's intentions. It's the general sensation across the planet. That Messi is focused on winning the Champions League, which, as a consequence, will bring the Ballon d'Or. 

Luka Modric broke the decade-long grip of Messi and Ronaldo on the coveted prize last year. In the last 10 years, the Argentina had won five and the Portuguese five. But the Croatian ended their domination. Now, though, Messi is close to taking his throne back. 

Not Mbappé, Griezmann, Cristiano Ronaldo nor Modric. They were all ahead of Messi last year. Neymar won't beat him to the prize, either, after another season disrupted by injuries.

In contrast, Liverpool, Ajax and Manchester City are all fighting for titles. De Ligt, De Jong, Sterling, Agüero, Van Dijk, Mane and Salah are now the rivals to Messi. Why? Because their teams are on for major honours, including the Champions League. 

They may have a case if they lead their teams to glory in Europe. The Champions League could be decisive but Messi's now a huge favourtie to win the Ballon d'Or. And he will have a minimum of 180 minutes more to further his case.  

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