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‘Barcelona are broken… Lionel Messi is underperforming’

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When Gerard Pique told reporters after the Clasico on Sunday night that the Real Madrid he had faced in the first half was ‘one of the worst,’ he’d ever played against, it was as much a criticism of his own team as of the great rival. It was another way of saying: If we can’t beat this lot what does that say about us?

Madrid had underwhelmed in the first period. They attacked but never really looked like scoring, and they allowed Barcelona to have five or six chances.

But Barcelona did not take those chances – failing to score at the Bernabeu for the first time in 12 years.
Lionel Messi’s form is a microcosm of Barcelona’s as they’ve been toppled at the top of La Liga

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After the game, Barcelona coach Quique Setien said: ‘You can’t always win’. It was a verdict that seemed a little lacking in self-criticism. He described the second-half evaporation as ‘incomprehensible’. For now the finger of blame is not being pointed at him and the Catalan press on Monday morning suggested Barcelona had not deserved to lose the game.

But they have now lost five on the road this season and the new coach is not coming good on the need to change that, or on the promise to play better football.
Setien’s biggest problem is that he vowed, regardless of results, that Barcelona would play well and apart from some brief spells in the first half they really didn’t.

Most concerning of all was that Messi was chief under-performer. You know there is something wrong with Barcelona when the post-match statistics say Messi lost possession 17 times.

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Too often Messi is receiving the ball in difficult situations. ‘Do players pass to him too much?’ Setien was asked after the defeat.

He said that if the ball is going to be at anyone’s feet then it might as well be at the best player’s. But he also seemed to concede that maybe the pass to Messi was a recourse that Barcelona over-rely on.

Players are sometimes guilty of either panicking in possession and passing him the ball like a bomb for him to dispose, or they are just taking the easier way out – not thinking beyond the Messi option. It’s not helping him.

It’s also a problem where on the pitch Messi receives the ball. He’s further from goal than ever when he’s given it under Setien. Last season he was being played in with the goal in his sights and Suarez close by. The only decision he had to make was shoot or pass to the Uruguayan. Now he’s far deeper and with the still-injured Suarez in the stands.

Setien faces on-form Real Sociedad at home next week. They are currently playing the type of football Barcelona supporters want to see their team play. That will be another test, and then just four days later they host Napoli in the Champions League last-16 second leg with the scoreline 1-1.

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