A dreadful performance from Barcelona during the first leg of their Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich leaves a four-goal deficit to make up on Wednesday at Camp Nou. Lionel Messi must lead the way if they are going to complete a miracle comeback.
Messi was virtually nonexistent during the first match. He failed to make anywhere near his usual impact as the Bayern defenders did a tremendous job of limiting his space. It was one of the rare times when the Argentine international had the look of an average player.
Unfortunately for Barcelona, many of his teammates followed suit with mundane performances, and the talented Bundesliga side took full advantage. Thomas Muller scored twice while Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben chipped in one goal apiece in a 4-0 win.
The clean sheet was key for Bayern because it means even a single goal on Wednesday will force Barcelona to score six against a back line they couldn't decipher last week. It means the Barca defense must be rock solid as Messi and company go to work up front.
If the Blaugrana were hoping to build some momentum during their La Liga encounter over the weekend, they failed. Athletic Bilbao tied the match in the final moments on an Ander Herrera goal. It was another setback after Barca had come back to take the lead.
One player who did shine in the game was Messi. He came off the bench to score a tremendous goal in the 67th minute and help set up Alexis Sanchez's go-ahead tally just a few minutes later.
It was the type of performance fans have come to expect from him over the years. The attack looked completely out of sync without him, but mere moments after his arrival to the pitch, Barcelona were suddenly dangerous in the final third again.
Messi is going to need to play at that level for 90 minutes, and potentially more, in the rematch for Barcelona to at least get within striking distance of Bayern's aggregate lead.
Steve Archibald, a former Barcelona striker, is one person who believes a comeback is possible. He told Pilar Suarez of Goal.com that Messi's past success suggests he can have the extraordinary match necessary to stun their German opponents.
It's reasonable to think they can [come back]. Messi has scored lots of goals. He has scored three or four in many games on his own, so it's not unreasonable to think that if Messi is on form, Barcelona can go through.
He's right. Messi does have a tendency to score goals in bunches, as illustrated by his 52 goals in 41 matches across La Liga and Champions League play this season. Amazingly, that's the type of production people have come to expect from him now.
Messi has previously proven transcendent in this Champions League campaign. After a 2-0 first-leg defeat to AC Milan in the Round of 16, the striker hit two first-half goals, spurring his teammates to a 4-0 win to advance in the competition.
He even scored four goals in a match against Osasuna back in January. The difference between Osasuna and Bayern is massive, of course, but it shows that Messi can completely take over a match when he's in top form. He wasn't anywhere close to it in last week's loss in Munich.
Barcelona have no choice. They must be as aggressive as possible starting at the opening whistle. Extended build-ups are only going to work for so long before time becomes an issue. It's essential that they push the pace early.
That includes a lot of touches for Messi in dangerous areas. As he showed against Athletic, it only takes a minor lapse from the defense for him to break free. One or two goals from him before halftime, while also keeping Bayern off the board on counterattacks, and they will be back in the game.
It's a long shot to say the least. But if there's one club capable of pulling it off, it's Barcelona with Messi leading the charge.
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