Lionel Messi is the subject of staunch criticism from the Spanish media ahead of Wednesday's Copa Del Rey final.
The Argentinian maestro's last two performances have failed to inspire Barcelona victories, ensuring the five-time Ballon d'Or winner enters the Mestalla under real pressure against Real Madrid.
Gerardo Martino, who may fear for his future heading into the cup final, suggested criticism of Messi is unfair, reported by Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC:
It is not for me to talk to Leo. He is under a lot of pressure and always comes through. You must be very brave and very honest with football to do what he does year after year. It seems a bit unfair to me for people to make judgments based on one or two games.
Messi has notched an excellent 33 goals in as many games across La Liga and Champions League this season, per WhoScored.com. He is also top scorer in the Copa Del Rey with five strikes, recorded by ESPN FC, suggesting the added pressure is unfair.
Indeed, Bleacher Report UK's tweet highlights the lack of perspective taken when criticising Messi for not scoring during his last two appearances:
Messi's spotlight is sure to intensify during the clash with Real due to both sides suffering key injuries. As reported in Corrigan's piece, Barcelona are likely to be without centre-backs Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Marc Bartra, ensuring a reshuffle that could see Alexandre Song or Sergio Busquets played out of position.
Perhaps most tellingly for Messi, his old nemesis will also miss the match. Cristiano Ronaldo is ruled out, reported by The Guardian, meaning Spanish football's most famous crossing of swords isn't set to resume. As the most prolific name on show, Messi is expected to deliver the Blaugrana what is likely to be their only prize of the season.
Barca's recent loss to Atletico Madrid saw Tata's team knocked out of the Champions League. Defeat to Granada also pushed the Catalan club four points behind Diego Simeone's La Liga leaders, suggesting Wednesday's clash may be Barcelona's last opportunity to rack up a trophy in a difficult campaign.
With the Neymar scandal, Sandro Rosell's resignation and the recently imposed transfer ban looming over the Camp Nou's prospects, such a victory will provide respite after a stressful few months, per BBC Sport. Messi, who has also waded through a court battle for alleged tax evasion, is expected to act as a beacon of strength with his on-field performances.
As noted by Messistats, he certainly has the pedigree to destroy a Los Blancos side that rarely manages to shut him out for 90 minutes:
Messi's usual standards—which have seen him score pretty much a goal every game since 2009-10, per WhoScored.com—open the player up to greater criticism than many. While two matches without tallying further would be considered the onset of a barren spell for most world-class forwards, he is judged on an entirely different scale.
As noted in AS's aforementioned headline, talks of an individual "crisis" are absurd. Messi has made a career of scoring important goals, even when supposedly in bad form, and has the means to win Barcelona the Copa Del Rey with a virtuoso performance.
If he doesn't, the fallout will be dramatic.
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