MADRID, March 23- Argentine Lionel Messi has long been compared with compatriot and legend Diego Maradona but now people are saying the Barcelona sensation, still only 22, is better than his idol and national team coach as he continues to hit new heights.Messi seems to be on a personal mission to win the league for Barcelona this season and has netted a best ever tally of 25 league goals to top the goalscoring charts and keep the champions level on 68 points with Real Madrid at the summit.
Barcelona are at home to Osasuna on Wednesday and the Pamplona outfit will hope Messi – who has scored back-to back hat-tricks in his last two league outings – does not make them his latest victim.
"For me (Lionel) Messi is better than (Diego) Maradona," said team-mate Pedro Rodriguez. "I play with him and see him every day and I think he is better. Maradona was the best player in football history but I feel Messi is greater."
Coach Pep Guardiola would probably like to rest his star man but admits it is not easy as Messi is such a key figure and always wants to play.
"I’ve run out of adjectives (to describe Messi)," said Guardiola. "You’ll have to find your own. I find it hard not to play him when I see his attitude he’s like an amateur in that he always wants to play."
Real Madrid have won their last nine league games to go top on goal difference and neither they nor Barca will want to give an inch in the title race with ‘El Clasico’ at the Santiago Bernabeu less than three weeks away.
Madrid travel to derby neighbours Getafe on Thursday for a fixture that has been problematic in recent seasons with Getafe slaying Real 3-1 at the Coliseum last season to accelerate the departure of then coach Bernd Schuster.
While Barcelona are reliant on the goals of Messi, Real have their own Argentine sharp-shooter in Gonzalo Higuain who has 20 goals for the season while Cristiano Ronaldo has weighed in with 15 in an exciting race for the Pichichi top-scorer trophy.
"I only need two goals to go past last season’s tally and that is my objective although the most important thing is helping out the team," said Higuain.
"We have to correct a few things but we have to continue like we have been doing and be calm for Thursday’s match against Getafe. It is vital not to slip up in the remaining games."
Real are the league’s top-scorers with 74 goals in 27 matches although they have some way to go to equal the all-time record of 107 goals set by John Toshack’s Real side in the 1989/1990 season.
Sevilla are having a torrid time at the moment with their last 16 Champions League exit followed by a 2-0 loss against Espanyol and under-pressure coach Manolo Jimenez badly needs a win at home against bottom side Xerez on Tuesday or could face the axe.
Sevilla have fallen to fifth, two points behind Real Mallorca, and have Athletic Bilbao and Deportivo La Coruna breathing down their necks just two points behind.
Jimenez got the dreaded vote of confidence after losing to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League and said he would battle back from the recent setbacks.
"I think I am strong enough to stand up to this," said Jimenez. "You have to stand up and be open to self-criticism as there is no room for excuses.
"We are not clinical in front of goal at the moment. We can play 100 minutes of football and we are incapable of scoring."
Xerez, bottom for virtually the whole campaign, have had a resurgence of late with wins over Malaga and Tenerife in their last three outings although they are still eight points from safety.
Valencia have taken advantage of Sevilla’s woes to steal third spot, four points ahead of Mallorca, and hope to consolidate that further at home to Malaga on Wednesday.
Elsewhere Atletico Madrid continue to infuriate their fans with inconsistent displays and have a vital home match against Athletic Bilbao on Thursday.
Bilbao, cup finalists last season, occupy sixth and the final European place that Atletico are longing for and the capital club can’t afford to slip up as they are already eight points behind Athletic.
Sporting Gijon v Deportivo La Coruna (1900 GMT), Sevilla v Xerez (2100 GMT)
Wednesday – all 1900 GMT unless stated
Barcelona v Osasuna, Tenerife v Villarreal, Valladolid v Espanyol, Racing Santander v Real Mallorca, Almeria v Real Zaragoza, Valencia v Malaga (2100 GMT)
Getafe v Real Madrid (1900 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao (2100 GMT)