MADRID – If Lionel Messi doesn’t come to the rescue for Barcelona, no one will.
The Argentina forward has saved Barcelona time and time again over his career, coming up with extraordinary goals and incredible assists that have led the club to dozens of titles over the years.
And it was his remarkable performance in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals against Liverpool that helped Barcelona overcome an off-night by the rest of the team. Messi scored two goals last week to put Barcelona in position to make it to the final for the first time in four years.
But when Barcelona struggled again collectively in the second leg, Messi wasn’t able to turn things around.
Liverpool reversed the 3-0 loss from the Camp Nou with a spectacular 4-0 win at Anfield, extending Barcelona’s European title drought for yet another year.
The loss highlighted Barcelona’s dependency on Messi, who put in a solid performance but couldn’t produce any more epic goals to keep the team in the tournament.
“We shouldn’t blame anybody,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said. “We are a team in the good situations and in the bad situations. In the end, it’s the coach who has to bear the responsibility.”
Catalan sports daily Sport called Barcelona’s defeat “the worst ridicule in the history” of the club, saying the result in England was “unforgivable.”
A video reproduced online by Spanish media showed what appeared to be Barcelona fans verbally confronting the team’s players at the airport in Liverpool after the match.
Valverde rested Messi more than ever this season, knowing how crucial he could be in the decisive moments of the season. He had been key to the team in several occasions, either deciding games as a starter or when coming off the bench.
The Argentina playmaker was rattled by Liverpool players from the start on Tuesday, at one point having his head shoved by defender Andrew Robertson as he prepared to get off the ground.
Messi had a few good moments, though, including two great throughballs that Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez squandered in front of the goal. Philippe Coutinho also had an opportunity off an assist from Messi but couldn’t capitalize on it.
Messi missed a good chance himself, one that he would not normally miss, with the ball by his feet inside the area, but he couldn’t get a shot on goal. Still, he had the most attempts for Barcelona, with two being stopped by Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Barcelona had been mostly outplayed against Liverpool in the first leg, but Messi still scored twice to give his team the advantage. It was Ousmane Dembele who had the chance to add to Barcelona’s result in that match, failing to score in a late counterattack that was started by Messi.
The defense also faltered at Anfield, with Alba’s mistakes being mostly to blame for two of Liverpool’s goals.
Barcelona also couldn’t survive Messi’s ordinary performance in the team’s elimination against Roma last season, when it squandered a three-goal first-half advantage in the quarterfinals.
“What hurts the most is that it has happened again,” Valverde said. “I think it will take a long time for us to put this behind us.”
It had been a nearly perfect season for Messi and Barcelona so far, with the playmaker putting up some of the best numbers of his career and the club reaching the final stretch of the season with a chance to win the treble.
Barcelona has already won the Spanish league, and it has a chance to win the Copa del Rey in a final against Valencia on May 25.
But there will be no fifth Champions League trophy this year for Messi, who had promised at the beginning of the season “to do everything we can to bring that beautiful and coveted cup” back to Barcelona.
Maybe next year.
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