With the shock of the transfer ban handed to Barcelona by FIFA which means no signing players in the next two transfer windows, there’s also their Champions League match to look over, and finding out that Lionel Messi had an awful match, and should be paying attention to what Neymar and Andres Iniesta were doing.
It’s not just the brilliant goal, which began with an excellent movement by Neymar that lured his defender outside the box before pulling back in. Iniesta’s pass was the stuff of legends, and you couldn’t thread that ball any better no matter what. Neymar hitting it at the right angle which Courtois couldn’t have reached and a defender couldn’t get to. Sublime.
So four matches against Atletico Madrid for Barcelona – four draws, only two goals, both of them scored by Neymr. Lionel Messi in the meantime continues to disappear against a team that constantly surrounds him with two to three players. That’s not new for Messi, but it seems like he isn’t doing enough to try and shake the bad situation he’s in.
First of all, when he actually does touch the ball, he keeps trying to get by one of his markers. Maybe it’s the way for him to try and get himself in the zone or in the game, but it hasn’t been working. Atletico seem to put all their faith in stopping him, and hoping Barcelona don’t find another way to score. There were two more attempts at goal for Barcelona after Neymar’s goal, both from outside the box, but nothing to suggest that Atletico’s tactics were failing them all of a sudden.
So what could have Barcelona and Lionel Messi have done to make things easier? It wasn’t just the quicker pace we saw from them once Iniesta scored his goal. Messi himself seemed stuck in the same area, mostly in the centre right, never moving to deep or too forward, making it easy for Atletico players to mark.
Against Real Madrid Lionel Messi kept dropping back to create space for himself and for others like Neymar to move into the vacuum created by his motion. It’s hard to understand why he didn’t try and do the same more often, because Atletico weren’t paying the same kind of attention to him and to other players, including Neymar and Iniesta. Cesc Fabregas was awful, almost redundant and not for the first time, but it wouldn’t have been noticed if Messi would have done things a little bit differently.
Barcelona are probably more worried about their appeals and the injury to Gerard Pique than Messi not playing very well once again vs a rival they’ll face two more times this season, with title repercussions based also on his ability to perform better. You never know if it’s Messi himself or orders from the sidelines that made him play the way he did, but Barcelona are almost crippled when he’s taken out of the match, and considering all the other hits they’ve taken in less than a week, they can’t afford to have him disappear for 90 minutes against Atletico Madrid, especially not when they need to score at the Vicente Calderon.