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Messi prevents Can Barça descent into chaos

AS AS 21/04/2014 Santi Giménez

Barça restored their pride on an evening which was designed for white handkerchiefs and Camp Nou tourists – one which Athletic Club wanted to take their share of. But Messi, for how ever much he is being scrutinized, was conclusive once again. Messi is his own man and aside from the criticism he receives – some of it fairly, but a lot of it disproportionate, it was down to him to steer the ship and lead a group who, as it stands, are still the defending champions. They might win, or lose but the pride which these players have for competing is embroidered into the badges on their shirts. And it was clinging on to the Argentine ace’s tail, that Barça were able to bounce back after going 1-0 down to Athletic and remain in the fight for the league title whilst simultaneously forcing Valverde’s side to scrap it out for the fourth and last Champions League berth in what will be a make-or-break final at San Mamés next weekend.

In a soulless atmosphere with a high percentage of tourists in the stands, Barça prevailed when everything looked to be against them. In other times, it would have been enough to have caused acts of barbarism at Camp Nou but then in those days, Barça didn’t have the world’s best player in their squad. Messi can have off games but as someone pointed out, “He never plays badly”. If you afford him just a fraction of what he requires, he will deliver high yield returns. Sunday’s game was difficult for a whole host of reasons – for the timing, for the quality and ambitions of the opponents but Messi was able to lift Martino’s side in a game which they played poorly. It was a case of grinding out a result against an Athletic team who are the only top flight side who have not lost a single away match in the second half of the campaign.

The first half was a fascinating exchange of attempts at either end which couldn’t fail to inspire the casual observer. The excellent Iraizoz pulled out a clutch of saves, which fuelled the anxiety already being felt by Barça’s forwards. The pick of the chances was undoubtedly Aduriz’s tremendous overhead kick which bounced back into play off the post while at the opposite end of the ground Pedro and Alexis were frustrated by the visitors’ keeper.

© ALBERT GEA

And bearing witness to all of this, an expectant public who curiously, treated Messi to an ovation every time he touched the ball. This was not duty-bound applause; it was given because Barça’s best moves were instigated by the Argentinean and if those moves didn’t produce any goals is was down to Athletic’s sturdy defending – with special mention due for San José and Laporte who were exceptional.

Barça went behind right at the start of the second half. It was inevitable that the disorientation between Song and Bartra would have consequences. Especially with someone like Aduriz – a player who is blazing a trail through these final weeks of the campaign, lurking. The striker sent the ball just where it hurts Pinto – low and angled inside his far post. That prompted the white hankie treatment but Barça responded just when it looked as the night couldn’t get any worse. Alves weaved his way down the right and teed up Alexis who shot was diverted in by Pedro to level on 72 minutes the two minutes later, Messi sent a rasping low free-kick through the wall and past Iraizoz to put the Catalans ahead.

After that, tensions rose in both penalty areas – Mascherano saving Barça, Laporte, Athletic. Barcelona return to second place provisionally, pending Madrid’s rescheduled meeting with Valladolid and give their own morale a boost. Athletic look ahead to next week’s ‘final’ with Sevilla in Bilbao. Don’t expect any favours in this league campaign.

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