Lionel Messi has been hailed as the greatest ever footballer by his Barcelona teammate Marc-André ter Stegen after the Argentine’s match-winning performance against rivals Real Madrid Sunday.

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After taking a blow to the face which left him bloodied and shaken in the first half, Messi scored Barca’s equalizer before netting the 500th goal of his club career — a last-minute winner in the 3-2 victory over Real.

“I think he’s the greatest ever, because there’s nobody similar to him,” German international goalkeeper Ter Stegen told CNN Sport’s Alex Thomas.

“He loves to play football, he loves to see other people around him playing well. I think he’s the best ever because of the talent and the amazing performances he’s showing every week.”

There’s a never ending debate as to who is the greatest ever footballer — and legends such as Argentine Diego Maradona and Brazilian Pele as well as Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo all have their advocates.

Messi missed out on winning last year’s Ballon d’Or to Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo having previously won the award five times.

With Barcelona, Messi has won La Liga eight times and has four Champions League titles and his goals in Sunday’s El Clasico helped lift the Catalan club above Los Blancos to the top of the Spanish league.

Ter Stegen’s 12-save triumph

Ter Stegen, who signed for Barcelona from German side Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2014, made 12 saves against Madrid — the highest tally by a Barca keeper in at least a decade.

A powerful stop against Luka Modric’s fizzing left-footed shot, a strong glove to deny Toni Kroos, and an incredible reaction save keeping out Karim Benzema were amongst the German’s heroic highlights.

But ter Stegen, who has won nine caps for his country, downplayed his own performance, instead praising the character shown by his team.

 “I think everybody yesterday did their best to perform well, to have success,” he said.

“At the end we made it, we’re more than happy that we came closer to Real now that we are the leaders in La Liga, even if Real Madrid has one match [in hand] with Celta Vigo.

“For the moment we want to put pressure on them, we want to win our matches, and hope we can focus on Osasuna now.”

Fluctuating fortunes

It’s been a season of fluctuating fortunes for Barcelona.

Only recently has Luis Enrique’s side gathered momentum in La Liga; thanks in part to Madrid’s erratic recent form in the league, allowing the Catalan side to take pole position.

A stunning comeback in the Champions League saw Barcelona recover to beat PSG 6-5 in a thrilling finale at the Camp Nou. But this was followed by a 3-0 aggregate loss to Juventus in the quarterfinals.

“I think of course we have had some difficult moments this season,” admits ter Stegen. “We just need to concentrate on ourselves to win our matches. Then we’ll see how it goes until the end. It will be hard as always

 “We are really focused on it and there will be nothing more to say than we have two more competitions — La Liga and Copa del Rey — where we can win the trophies. We’ll try our best to do it.”

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