The stat says a lot about the kind of season Lionel Messi is having so far. In the big five European leagues, the Paris Saint-Germain No. 30, who faces Maccabi Haifa in Israel on Wednesday night in the Champions League, is the player with the most successful dribbles this campaign with 30. Who is behind him? Jude Bellingham with 19!
In short, Messi is back and the stats show it. His performances show it, too, with three goals and seven assists already and 22 chances created in just seven Ligue 1 matches. His body language seems to show that he's happy with his football, with his team and with his life in Paris. The contrast with last season is quite strong, obviously: despite his 14 assists in the league, his output was still far from what we expected from him.
This season is very different. At 35, he will never be the Messi that he was a decade ago, as you'd expect, but he's certainly playing at a level that's close to his best. His creativity is evident, he's more strategic with when he chooses to accelerate with the ball, and his dribbling in small spaces is as sharp as ever. His energy levels are high, making him breathtaking to watch at times.
On Saturday, against Brest, in a match that saw PSG looking sluggish and average, Messi was the only one making things happen. His magnificent pass for Neymar on the Brazilian's goal was worthy of his career highlight reel. The dynamic is real, and the Argentine is enjoying himself again.
Last season was a struggle at times because of all the changes precipitated by leaving Barcelona after nearly two decades. In addition to assimilating at a new club, with a new manager and new teammates, there were the personal elements of moving to new country, starting a new life, scouting a new school for his children and so on.
A year on from that seismic change, Messi has had time to digest it all and adapt. His fellow Argentines on the PSG squad, midfielder Leandro Paredes and winger Angel Di Maria, left the French capital this summer -- both men ended up joining Juventus, the former on loan and the latter as a free agent -- which meant Messi had to open up a bit more with the rest of the squad, which he is enjoying.
The change of manager has been a big thing too. He didn't really get on with Mauricio Pochettino but likes working with Christophe Galtier. He thinks the new system with a back three is a good idea, and he's enjoying his more central position; last year, Pochettino kept playing him wide, which he can't do anymore at his age with the same efficiency.
This is obviously a very important year and season for him, and it's probably the biggest reason why his start of the season has been so good.
The World Cup, his last one, is fast approaching on the horizon and Messi must be ready for it. Since he made his debut for Argentina back in 2005, scoring 86 goals in 162 caps, this is probably his best chance of winning it. The Copa America triumph in 2021 lifted so much pressure off his shoulders as his first international trophy (aside from Olympic gold in 2008 with the Under-23s) and meant so much to him and to the whole country. What he has been building with head coach Lionel Scaloni is a proper team that defends and attacks together, with a renewed sense of unity and team spirit.
Messi really believes that he will win the World Cup with Argentina, and doing well with PSG until he leaves for Qatar on Nov. 16 is very important. He has to arrive at the first game against Saudi Arabia on Nov. 22 in optimum form.
Everything he does now is geared towards his World Cup dream, and PSG are benefiting from it. The club is very happy with what Messi is showing and doing, according to sources. Messi even came back early from his summer holidays and made himself very accessible to club sponsors on their preseason tour in Japan; things have been going well on and off the pitch ever since.
PSG bosses know that if winning the World Cup drives him, winning the Champions League should have the same motivational effect over the second half of the season. Lifting the trophy for the fifth time is also a huge objective for him this season; Messi reportedly feels that PSG have something special this year and that they can go all the way.
In Paris, both Galtier and new PSG sporting director Luis Campos would love Messi to stay at least another season. He has the option for a third year in his contract, one that he and the club need to agree upon to trigger it. The idea at the club is that they want to offer him a new two-year deal -- the option year plus another -- in order to extend his stay at the club. The Argentine didn't say yes or no, instead telling executives that he will not talk about his future before the World Cup.
While they wait for discussions to begin on Messi's preferred timetable, at least they can enjoy a bit more of his magic in the meantime.