After losing 2-0 to Milan in the first knockout stage fixture, the Barça attack was lackluster again in a narrow 2-1 victory over Sevilla last weekend.
Then came two successive losses to archrival Real Madrid for Barcelona. In the Copa Del Rey semifinals, Barcelona only managed to score in the 89th minute after falling behind 3-0.
In today’s La Liga showdown, a perfectly timed run and classy finish from Messi provided the team’s only goal in a 2-1 defeat.
Seeing Barcelona lose a single match has been a rare and surprising occasion in recent seasons, but to witness the club drop three or four matches is truly shocking.
The team is in the midst of one of its poorest runs in the last several years, and it will take more than Messi to get back into top form.
The Argentine star has not played magnificently over this stretch, but he has been adequate. The one exception was against Milan, when the Italians smothered him throughout the match and he was unable to make an impact.
In all likelihood, Milan will use even more conservative tactics in the second leg of the matchup, which is set for March 12, and Messi will again receive constant attention from multiple defenders.
For Barcelona to have a chance at closing the two-goal deficit, the team’s other stars must step and elevate their level of play.
While Messi has certainly played better during his career, Andres Iniesta and Xavi have been downright disappointing during the run of poor matches.
The creative spark these players provide in the midfield will be critical to the club’s chances at advancing past the first round of the knockout stage.
If Barcelona does make such an early exit, it will be the first time since the 2006-07 season that the team has failed to reach the semifinals in Europe.
This shows how dire of a situation the club is in and how disappointing the failure to advance would be.
Messi will certainly need to play well in order for the club to beat Milan by at least two goals, but the crucial part of Barcelona’s success will depend on whether or not the other attackers can be sharp in front of goal.