Majestic Lionel Messi and Barcelona Prove Their Big-Game Mentality

Rik Sharma@@riksharma_Featured ColumnistMarch 23, 2014

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 23:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's fourth goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at the Bernabeu on March 23, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

The current Barcelona team have passed their peak, but it doesn't mean that they're going to roll over on occasions like this.

Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and the rest thrive on the big nights, the grandest stages.

Those three players were the stars of the Blaugrana's 4-3 victory at the Bernabeu, along with Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria.

The game was a victory for football; it was pure entertainment, and when the Clasico turns into this sort of flowing match, Barcelona find themselves at home.

It blows La Liga wide open again, and now Atletico Madrid sit at the top of the table.

With his hat-trick Messi will take the plaudits, even if Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti wasn’t too keen on crediting him after the match.

The Italian was being harsh; Messi had a big influence on the game.

Yes, two of his goals were penalties—and finer ones you will not see—but he troubled Xabi Alonso in the Madrid midfield and made himself the waspish nuisance that Pepe and Sergio Ramos hate.  

Barcelona’s midfield masters, Iniesta and Xavi, also had a huge influence on the game, with Sergio Busquets behind them excelling as per usual.

Iniesta opened the scoring, coming inside from the left with a diagonal run to collect Messi’s pass and blast it past Diego Lopez with panache.

On target: Andres Iniesta (left) opened the scoring.
On target: Andres Iniesta (left) opened the scoring.Paul White/Associated Press

All that said, Barcelona's deficiencies still existed, even though they were masked by their spirit, desire and artistry.

Javier Mascherano and Gerard Pique should have done better for Karim Benzema's goals, particularly the second one when they gave the striker enough time to control the ball in the box and blast home.

Victor Valdes will know he should have kept out Benzema’s header which levelled the scores at 1-1, the goalkeeper flapping at it.  

Di Maria, meanwhile, was operating with ease behind Dani Alves.

Strong show: Angel Di Maria operated well behind Dani Alves.
Strong show: Angel Di Maria operated well behind Dani Alves.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

He set up the first two goals for Benzema, and the striker should have had a couple of more that were set up by the left-winger.

Benzema blasted one chance over the crossbar and another one was excellently blocked by Pique on the line.  

That Di Maria was getting so much joy wasn't just the fault of Alves—his Brazilian compatriot Neymar was not offering enough protection either.

Where Madrid’s forward would get back and try to help out Marcelo, Neymar wasn’t putting in much effort to assist Alves.

Tata Martino wisely brought on Pedro for Neymar in the second half—the Spaniard is more diligent when defending is concerned.

Alves was also exposed by Cristiano Ronaldo for Madrid’s third goal, when the defender brought down the Portugal striker and a penalty was awarded.

The foul was committed outside the box, however, and referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco was wrong to point to the spot.

With the exception of Neymar, these are areas that will have to be looked at in the summer, and in the short term, it is difficult to do much about them.

Messi’s first goal highlighted the difference between Neymar and himself. The Brazilian got in a muddle in the box, but his team-mate was on hand to swoop in, pick up the pieces and drill the ball into the bottom corner.

Neymar, to his credit, earned one of Barcelona’s penalties. However, it was more a case of clumsy defending by Ramos than any piece of genius by the forward.

Off-form: Neymar (right) was not at his best.
Off-form: Neymar (right) was not at his best.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Special: Lionel Messi took the plaudits once again.
Special: Lionel Messi took the plaudits once again.Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Messi converted it and cemented his place in the Clasico record books, becoming the highest scorer in the fixture's history.

He has netted 21 times against Real Madrid for Barcelona in 26 games, overtaking Alfredo Di Stefano who had 18 in 30, as per AS.

Where Madrid’s Gareth Bale is still yet to produce the goods in a big game and Ronaldo was quiet, even though he converted from the penalty spot, Messi shone.

He is Barcelona’s talisman, and with him in the side, problem areas can be disguised.

Although this year’s version of Barcelona are often difficult to predict, if they can still win the league on the last day of the season against Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou, they would be a wise bet.