Real Betis Balompie v FC Barcelona - La Liga

Lionel Messi scores 85th, 86th goals of year, passes Gerd Müller


Since Wednesday there were doubts whether he’d even play, but not only was Lionel Messi in the starting lineup for Barcelona at Real Betis today, he quickly answered the day’s big question:

Would he break the record?

That record was former Bayern Munich/Germany striker Gerd Müller’s, the three-time European champion posting 85 goals in all FIFA-sanctioned competitions in 1972. Messi entered today’s game on 84: 72 for Barcelona; 12 for Argentina.

The record-tying goal came after only 16 minutes, with Müller taking a back seat nine minutes later:

It’s apropos that the record-setter came on a goal that’s had to be added to Messi’s game. You didn’t see play like that when he broke into Barça’s senior team eight years ago. Since, Messi has matured from the widely talented right winger he was at 17 into the middle-of-the-field orchestrator he is today.

source: Getty ImagesCharging at the defense, he lets his pass for Andrés Iniesta go just in time to give his teammates space for a backheel. One touch later and Messi’s let go of a surgical far post finish. The opposing keeper has no chance.

Messi’s always been a phenom, but that kind of playmaking and precision are things he’s had to develop en route to becoming the world’s best player. His initial value was on the ball – taking on his man to create his own opportunities, occasionally setting his teammates up for others.

He was a wildcard to team built around Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto’o, and Xavi. Now his game embodies the best of all those players’ skills: Xavi’s precision and prolificness; Deco’s nous; Eto’o finishing; Ronaldinho’s flair.

Though today’s accomplishment highlights his individualism, Messi’s matured into a player you can build a team around without fear it will devolve into a quest for numbers. The records just come.

MORE: All 86 goals, one video

After today’s 2-1 victory in Seville, Barcelona has four more games left on their 2012 schedule: a Copa del Rey home-and-away against second division Cordoba, a huge home match against Atletico (and Radamel Falcao) and a year-ender at Real Valladolid.

If he plays every game, as he wants to do, Messi could come close to 95 goals, but with 100 out of reach and Cordoba offering a chance for rest, look for Messi to settle in just short of 90.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.