In the aftermath of Barcelona being knocked out of the Champions League by Athletico Madrid, two people in particular have been subject to the majority of the scrutiny. One is manager Tata Martino, and the other is, incredibly, Lionel Messi. It’s not just with emotion that people are aiming criticism at Messi though, they’re bringing out all the stats too.
Apparently, Messi ran only one mile more than the Barcelona goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto did, which was only half of what Athletico match winner Koke ran during the game. Not only that, but Messi, for the first time since 2011, has gone four games without scoring a goal. Now, to most players, that would not be a big deal, but to Messi, it’s an eternity.
Messi has been up and down this season, a quiet few games here, but then back to being a match winner there. It hasn’t been the Messi juggernaut that we have grown accustomed to. It makes you wonder whether Messi has been saving himself this season, slightly, for Argentina and the World Cup this summer. He will not have been the first player to do that, but when you’re Messi, you don’t tend to get away with slack games like others may do.
It is hard to believe, however, that in a game as big as he was in against Athletico in a Champions League quarterfinal, that he would take his foot off the gas ahead of the World Cup. Perhaps a few home games where he isn’t so focal to the team, perhaps on a lesser occasion, but not a game like this, surely. If Messi is saving himself, then he is only bringing more attention and scrutiny onto himself with displays like against Athletico.
The scary thing for Barcelona fans is that, if Messi is not saving himself, then what is wrong with the Argentine? This has clearly not been the normal Messi we all have come to know this season. Is it the contract dispute he is engaged in? Is it the new manager’s tactics? Is it the introduction of Neymar? Or, is it indeed the World Cup? Messi has never truly lit up a World Cup like we know he can, he will be well aware of that himself, and perhaps that is the pressure that he’s feeling.
The truth is, nobody knows and everybody should probably leave him alone. That is not going to happen though if he continues to play like he has done at times and like he did against Athletico. The only way to avoid the scrutiny and the criticism is to play well — to play like the real Messi — because when he does that, nobody (except opponents) will complain.