It seems almost impossible to fathom, but Barcelona striker Lionel Messi is as close to "out of form" as he will probably ever be in his incredible career.
The reigning four-time Ballon d'Or holder and leading goal scorer around the world has, by his standards anyway, struggled greatly in the past few weeks or so and has not had the success (or the goals) that many would have envisaged the Argentinian having.
It first came up two weeks back when the Barca front man played AC Milan in the Champions League. The Italians would dominate defensively that match with an effective back line across the top of the box, and they would keep Messi without a shot on target for the first time since May.
The 25-year-old would net a man of the match performance as his side labored past Sevilla 2-1 in La Liga, but would again be held scoreless and without a shot on target when Barca played at home against Madrid in the Copa del Rey semifinals.
Two of the biggest games all season—if not the biggest—and Messi had been kept scoreless and without a shot. The brilliance had not been seen by all those that were eagerly waiting on it to come, and Barcelona had been defeated in both matches because of it.
In his defense, it's hard to point too much of the blame on him, for the 25-year-old simply wasn't getting the ball or the shooting opportunities normally provided.
If blame is to fall anywhere, it needs to fall on the midfield of the Catalan club for not being direct enough and on their defense for not being stable under pressure.
Yet still, Messi is out of form, and he now comes into the UEFA Champions League this week—a tournament he has historically dominated—in need of a win. He's in need of goals, in need of shots, but most importantly, Barcelona are in need of a win.
They trail Milan by two goals on aggregate, and face a shock elimination from the tournament if they cannot peg back the current deficit to the Italian club.
It is that environment and pressure that Messi will walk out to when he takes the field at the Nou Camp during the week, but like we have seen time and time again throughout his career, it is that environment and pressure that will allow him to thrive the most.
Barcelona's attack will be more direct than ever before, for they need to score goals. Messi will be shooting more, passing more, moving more—all because Barcelona are looking to avenge the two-goal margin that they currently trail by and their striker is the man most likely to do that.
Regardless of whether Milan plays all 10 outfield players on top of their box or not, Barcelona will be attacking right from the opening whistle of the match. And that should surely suit Messi, who is a lock therefore to bounce back into form in this one.
Whether the Catalan club can emerge victorious is another question. Whether they will win through to the Champions League quarterfinals is yet another. But whether Messi will regain his attacking dominance and goal-scoring brilliance isn't even up for debate—it's simply bound to happen given Barca's need to attack and their need to score plenty of goals.
After all, the Argentinian international has netted over 300 goals for La Blaugrana so far in his career, and rarely have they been under pressure like they are here.
Hardly ever before in Messi's career has the need for goals been so imminent from his team, and yet despite that, he's still managed to net over 300 goals for the club. Just imagine then, what he could do with Barca needing to attack and score goals.
Either way—it's going to be a long 90 minutes for Milan.
Will Barcelona beat Milan and move through to the quarterfinals or not?
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