Lionel Messi Defended by Barcelona Coach Gerardo Martino over Goal Drought

Nick Akerman@NakermanFeatured ColumnistNovember 1, 2013

Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino has defended Lionel Messi’s recent lack of goals, suggesting the player’s injury problems are hampering his game.

"If Messi doesn't score three goals in a game people start to think there's a problem," Martino said, according to ESPN. "Injuries happen. To Messi, or anyone."

The four-time Ballon d’Or winner has netted once in his last three starts, which happened to be the equalising goal in Barcelona’s 1-1 Champions League draw with AC Milan.

Messi’s persistent thigh problem is perhaps to blame for a return that is considered modest by a player of his standards.

Even with injuries, Messi has scored 12 goals in 11 appearances for the Catalan club this season, per WhoScored. This includes terrific hat-tricks against Levante, Valencia and Ajax, while helping to Barcelona to a one-point La Liga lead over Atletico Madrid.

Martino has quickly asserted his own ideas since replacing Tito Vilanova in the summer. The incoming manager favours a rotation policy and is willing to provide most of the club’s senior stars with a decent amount of playing time.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 25:  Head coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino of FC Barcelona faces the media during a press conference at the Camp Nou Stadium on October 25, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

In the same ESPN story, Martino also defended himself against the suggestion that employing this strategy forces Barcelona to lose control in matches:

If you rotate, you always take a risk. When we lose, there will be criticism. But I continue to think it's the best thing to do.

We don't like it that we don't control some games, but when it happens, we always come out of it as the best.

Martino's tactics certainly worked during the recent Clasico win over Real Madrid. Alexis Sanchez chipped the pivotal goal after coming off the bench in the 2-1 win that put his team six points ahead of their fierce rivals.

Barcelona's next La Liga fixture is a local derby against eighth-placed Espanyol. Javier Aguirre's team have accumulated a respectable 15 points from 11 games and will look to silence the Camp Nou by shocking their neighbours.

Of course, this won't be possible should Messi get back to goalscoring form.