The Blaugrana moved into a strong position with a comprehensive win over the Reds in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final. Messi scored twice in the second period, including a stunning free-kick, while former Liverpool forward Luis Suarez broke the deadlock before the interval.
It wasn't a good night for ex-Reds star Coutinho, though, as he toiled throughout and manager Ernesto Valverde hauled him off. Despite his underwhelming display, Messi said the stick he received from his own fans wasn't warranted.
"It's ugly that they whistle a team-mate like this," said the Barcelona No. 10, per Jordan Seward of MailOnline. "We are all in this together. We have to be united to the end because we are close to our objective now."
The brilliance of Messi was eventually enough to give Barcelona a handsome win on the night. While the first of his two goals was a poacher's effort, his second was this incredible free-kick from distance (U.S. only):
Along with Messi and Suarez, Coutinho was expected to provide the attacking stardust for the La Liga side in a tight game.
In the end, Barcelona actually improved when the Brazilian came off, with Nelson Semedo's introduction helping the Blaugrana regain control of the game at a point when Liverpool were on top, per Ste Hoare of Fresh Press UK:
Prior to his substitution, the fans had been losing patience with the midfielder, per Spanish football journalist Rik Sharma:
Coutinho arrived at Barcelona in January 2018 from Liverpool, with the Catalan giants paying a club-record transfer fee to land him.
At the time, Coutinho was considered one of the best attacking midfielders in the world, having shone as a creative and goalscoring force. However, he's failed to replicate that form on a regular basis for Barcelona and has been subject to stick from fans in recent weeks.
In the previous round, he netted a tremendous long-range strike in the 3-0 win over Manchester United and celebrated by putting his fingers in his ears in response to those jeers. After Coutinho's toils on Wednesday, Messi did something similar:
It will be intriguing to see if Coutinho features in the return leg at Anfield. While you'd back Suarez to thrive in what should be a hostile environment, you couldn't say the same about his fellow former Liverpool team-mate.
Despite Messi's calls for support for the player, the fan anxiousness over Coutinho will also trigger questions as to whether he will be at the club beyond the summer. Moises Llorens of ESPN FC reported in March that Barcelona would be open to selling the Brazilian for around £90 million.