The scrutiny, expectations and incredible pressure that come with being the best player on arguably world football's best club have never threatened Lionel Messi's greatness. FC Barcelona has come under fire lately for lackluster play, but it shouldn't be pinned on the 25-year-old striker.
A 3-2 maiden loss in La Liga to Real Sociedad began the relative decline for the talented squad.
But Messi put a goal on the board in the sixth minute in that match and keyed a 2-0 halftime lead. A red card truly cost Barca in that one. The UEFA Champions League loss to AC Milan followed.
Two consecutive losses to arch-rival Real Madrid—a 3-1 downer in the Copa del Ray this past week and a 2-1 defeat on Tuesday in La Liga play—have the club in somewhat of a crisis. In the first fixture, Messi failed to find the scoreboard despite generating a number of chances.
After a momentum-seizing goal by Real in the fifth minute, Messi responded with his characteristic brilliance in netting the equalizer. SportsCenter's official Twitter page pointed out the significance of his goal, which was the only one of the game:
Soccer's best on display.Lionel Messi scores his 18th #ElClásico goal, tying the career record held by Alfredo Di Stéfano.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 2, 2013
To say the least, Barcelona's verified social media outlet was ecstatic.
GGGGGGOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLL!!!! LEO MESSI! #FCBLive— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 2, 2013
As sensational as Messi and La Blaugrana have been over the past four years, the disappointment in the Copa del Rey should not be read into too much. Barca has only captured the King's Cup twice since 2009, and even lost the final to Real Madrid two seasons ago.
That sort of letdown and Messi's lacking presence on the score sheet should be more heavily criticized due to Barca's lackluster defense.
However, even losing in that fashion at Camp Nou along with a league matchup with the Vikings isn't going to sting too much in the long-term. With a commanding lead still in Spain's top league and redemption still possible in the UEFA Champions League
Who or what is most to blame for Barca's recent struggles?
Unfortunately, Barca hasn't quite been the same since Tito Vilanova left the team to undergo treatment for cancer. Interim manager Jordi Roura is in an extremely difficult situation in attempting to replace the beloved boss, but the impact of Vilanova's absence has been apparent and transparent.
As long as Barcelona can fortify its defense and gain some momentum in its next match against La Liga cellar dweller Deportiva La Coruna, Messi and the attack should be able to get back on track.
What follows is a shot at redemption and at quieting the critics against AC Milan in the Champions League second leg.
Messi does not need to take any additional heat. It has been an all-around letdown from everyone on the club, and Vilanova's absence has had something to do with it, as admitted by Xavi (h/t TeamTalk.com).
Considering his track record of performing incredibly on the biggest stages, Messi will be able to get Barca back to prominence very soon. Blaming him as the primary culprit for the club's latest struggles may make sense to some since he is the biggest stud, but it simply doesn't make sense.