MADRID, Spain, November 23 – Superstar Lionel Messi, having taken his 2012 goals tally to 80 in midweek, can close in on German great Gerd Mueller’s all-time record of 85 in a calendar year on Sunday.
The Argentinian had already surpassed Pele’s total of 75 goals in 1958 and a double at Spartak Moscow on Tuesday, when Barcelona secured their spot in the Champions League last 16, further boosted his hopes.
With his La Liga-leading side travelling to Levante on Sunday, Messi now has eight matches left before the Christmas break in which to break Mueller’s record of 85 goals in 1972.
“Everyone says I’m very competitive, I do plan my objectives year by year to keep improving and to win again all we have won before,” Messi said.
“I just like to train, play and win. I’ve been like that since I was young, but without my colleagues I would not achieve anything, they deserve all the credit.”
Levante will be a difficult place to go for Barca as Real Madrid can vouch after scraping a late 2-1 win there two weekends ago.
A 2-0 win at Deportivo La Coruna last weekend saw Levante move into a Champions League position in fourth, and in Obafemi Martins they have pace that Barca will be wary of.
The Nigerian ex-Newcastle and Inter Milan striker has hit five goals in eight league games this season since his summer move from Rubin Kazan.
Second-placed Atletico Madrid entertain Sevilla just before Barca play, knowing that a win will pile pressure on Messi and his team mates.
There are three points between the two sides who have both made record-breaking starts to the season.
Barca have dropped only two points to date in the 2-2 draw with Real Madrid, while Atletico have let just five slip.
Atletico have won every home game but Sevilla arrive in the capital full of confidence after the 5-1 thrashing handed to their local rivals Betis last Sunday.
Sevilla midfielder Javi Hervas is clear his side must forget that triumph.
“We have to go out like that in all games and if we do it at Atletico we can break their record. They have lots of good players, not just Falcao, and they play at a great pace, but we’ll go there to win,” he said.
Meanwhile, chasing hard in third position, eight points behind Barca, are Real Madrid who go to Real Betis on Saturday on the back of five straight league wins and Champions League qualification achieved with Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Manchester City.
Betis will be keen to give a good performance after their derby disaster, while Madrid slowly recover from an early season injury crisis.
Betis defender Chechu Dorado feels positive despite the Sevilla loss.
“Our league position speaks for itself, any Betis fan would be happy to be in sixth with 19 points at this stage, we’re not happy with the result last week, nobody likes to lose like that to their biggest rival, but we’re looking ahead to Saturday and what should be a great match,” he said.
Madrid are almost back to full strength with only Marcelo remaining a long term casualty.
With a derby of their own against Atletico next weekend it is crucial that no more ground is lost on their city rival or Barca.
Real Sociedad v Osasuna (2030 GMT)
Rayo Vallecano v Mallorca (1500 GMT), Valladolid v Granada (1700 GMT), Malaga v Valencia (1900 GMT), Betis v Real Madrid (2100 GMT)
Espanyol v Getafe (1100 GMT), Athletic Bilbao v Deportivo (1800 GMT), Atletico Madrid v Sevilla (1800 GMT), Levante v Barcelona (2000 GMT)
Zaragoza v Celta (2000 GMT)