While Lionel Messi hasn’t quite been operating at the same mind-blowing levels that we’ve become accustomed to this season, talk of the Barcelona star being in a rapid decline is nothing short of nonsense.
Following Barcelona’s defeat to Atletico Madrid that saw them eliminated from the Champions League, Spanish newspaper AS opted for a controversial headline, revealed by Messi Left Foot:
Apparently Messi is in crisis, his 500th crisis this season pic.twitter.com/rSxlMKyglG— Messi Left Foot (@messileftfoot) April 12, 2014
Calling it Messi’s 500th crisis of the season is an exaggeration, but the scary thing is, it’s only a slight one.
This is a player who scored a record-breaking 91 goals in a calendar year and has been crowned the best player on the planet four times, but it doesn’t mean that every time he hits a shot off target he should suddenly be in the Barcelona B setup.
Let’s not forget, the 26-year-old missed two months of the season with a hamstring injury and still he’s managed to find the net 25 times for the Catalan giants in La Liga—just three goals shy of the ever-praised Cristiano Ronaldo.
According to ESPN FC, Messi has scored 38 goals in 37 games in all competitions for Barcelona this season—not bad for a player in crisis.
He has also scored seven of the club’s last 10 La Liga goals, as OptaJose reported:
7 - Lionel Messi has scored seven of Barcelona’s last 10 league goals, with four of them coming from the penalty spot. Executioner.— OptaJose (@OptaJose) April 12, 2014
Unfortunately for Messi, setting the bar so high in previous campaigns has led to his own reported downfall, despite the lack of reality behind it.
His 46 goals in 28 league appearances last season and 50 in 36 the campaign before that mean that the media have jumped all over his feeble 25 in 24 return this term.
It’s a sentiment that Barcelona sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta agreed with during an interview with TV3, as reported by Goal.com:
There is nothing wrong with Messi. I do not doubt him even for half a second. We have been spoiled by what Messi has been doing over the years. We are used to seeing him doing magical things and deciding games from out of nowhere with his goals. He is physically well and is feeling great at Barcelona. He will definitely continue here. The last few results give little reason for optimism, but the Copa del Rey final awaits and Leo will bring us joy again.
Real Madrid are Barcelona’s opponents in said Copa del Rey final on Wednesday, and Messi has already proved what a devastating effect he can have in an El Clasico tie this season.
The striker scored a hat-trick, including two penalties, and was at the heart of everything positive for Barcelona during their 4-3 victory over Madrid in March’s thriller at the Bernabeu.
If ever Messi made a statement saying “I’m back to my best,” then it was in the Spanish capital that night. Still, though, he apparently remains a shadow of his former self.
There has been talk of Messi’s Barcelona colleagues being his supposed problem, with the Argentinian failing to jell with €57 million signing Neymar.
The Brazilian star has settled into life at the Nou Camp well, scoring nine league goals and assisting eight more during his debut season, but it’s his similarities with Messi that make the pair occasionally ineffective.
Their direct, skilful approach wins individual admirers, but their collective brilliance has failed to ignite thus far.
Former player Johan Cruyff was quick to point out that Neymar can never be the star of the Barcelona show during an interview with El Mundo, as FootballPlanet revealed:
Cruyff:“Neymar and Leo Messi?.If you already have the best player in the world, a 21-year-old player can’t be the main man.'' #AW_fp— Football Planet (@iFootballPlanet) March 25, 2014
As they say, there can’t be two captains of the same ship. In Messi, Barcelona still have one of the greatest players ever to play the game, but they need to utilise him in the correct way to bring the best out of him.
When a striker is scoring 38 goals in an off-season, you have to question what on earth will happen when they return to form? Messi has a chance to silence his critics in Wednesday’s El Clasico, and with Ronaldo out of action, he can prove to the world why he’s still No. 1.