Lionel Messi has rarely been accused of failing to deliver in big games, having scored in two European Cup finals but, after subdued performances against AC Milan and Real Madrid, questions are being asked.
LIONEL Messi has rarely been accused of failing to deliver in big games, having scored in two European Cup finals but, after subdued performances against AC Milan and Real Madrid, questions are being asked.
The four-times World Player of the Year and leading scorer in one of the greatest club teams of all time, was a shadow of his usual self at the San Siro in a Champions League last-16 first leg last week, when Barcelona slumped to a 2-0 defeat.
The same happened again at the Nou Camp on Tuesday, when Cristiano Ronaldo, the player with whom he is always compared, scored twice in a 3-1 second-leg victory to guide Real into the King’s Cup final, 4-2 on aggregate.
Portugal’s Ronaldo has shaken off accusations that he went missing when the going got tough and, in scoring against Barca, he passed Messi’s record to become the first player to score in six straight “Clasicos” away from home.
“It is about the team, not about whether Messi is better or worse,” Barca and Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta told a news conference yesterday, defending his team-mate.
“We have scored a lot of goals, and so has he in particular. It is just in these two key games we have lacked accuracy and composure. When the team doesn’t work well, it is everyone’s responsibility.”
Messi, who plays in almost every game, has resembled the forlorn figure he was with Argentina a couple of years ago when criticised for failing to perform on the international stage.
He shrugged off suggestions he was tired at the weekend, telling Barca TV: “I am used to playing a lot of games now, and I prefer it this way. I feel better if I don’t rest.”
Barca and Messi can hardly be accused of decline, as they top La Liga with a 12-point lead over second-placed Atletico Madrid and 16 points ahead of champions Real in third.
Messi is La Liga’s top scorer with 38 goals, netting more goals himself than 16 other teams have individually tallied up in the 20-team league. However, he and his team have struggled when confronted with tightly organised defences of late.