FC Barcelona

Lionel Messi misfires in El Clasico (again) as goalscoring burden weighs heavy

Max Cooper
Apr 11, 2021, 6:30 PM GMT+1
Another blank for the magician
Another blank for the magician / Angel Martinez/Getty Images

While Saturday evening's Clasico was hugely significant for the Spanish title race, it was also a potentially monumental moment in the derby's long and celebrated history.

Real Madrid's 2-1 victory over Barcelona meant that Los Merengues leapfrogged their two biggest rivals to climb to the top of La Liga, handing them the advantage heading into the final weeks of the season.

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But most importantly, it may well have been Lionel Messi's final Clasico of his career, as the Argentine continues to contemplate his future in Catalonia.

If it were to be his final outing against the old foe - in which he equalled Sergio Ramos' record of appearing 45 times in this fixture - then it was a mightily disappointing way to bow out on the biggest stage in football.

We shouldn't be too surprised by Messi's failure to find the net in this top-of-the-table Royal Rumble, however. Not even if we factor in his recent statistics, in which he'd recorded 16 goals and six assists in the 12 matches prior to the Clasico.

The big shock is that Messi hasn't scored against Real Madrid since May 2018, when he found the net in a 2-2 draw with his bitter enemies. So, what's stopped the Barça superstar from doing what he does best for three whole years?

Well, the standard of his teammates could be a major factor. The likes of Luis Suarez, Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic all lined up alongside the forward on that day in 2018, and while the Blaugrana have looked to replace them, they haven't done a great job.

So, not only is Messi being asked to shoulder more responsibility without the old guard at his side, but the lack of service into him means his chances of finding the net are more limited than ever.

And that was reflected in Saturday's big clash, when the winger seemed to be weighed down by the knowledge of how important each and every effort towards goal was for him and his team, as he wasted several brilliant free-kick opportunities.

This team looks to Messi for inspiration at every turn, and he is expected to deliver perfection on every occasion. Those heavy, heavy hopes have visibly taken their toll in recent years, and it's no surprise that he's most affected in the biggest game in the calendar.

Pressure can get to players, even at the highest level, so it's not out of the question to suggest that he would have bent two or three of those set pieces into the top corner, had they arrived while sitting 3-0 ahead against Huesca on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Then, let's consider this hypothesis; in that 2-2 draw with Madrid back in 2018, one significant man was on the scoresheet for Los Blancos - a man who was always on the scoresheet.

Cristiano Ronaldo. That's right, since Ronaldo left La Liga, Messi hasn't scored a single Clasico goal. More than 1,000 days have passed since the Joker to our Batman departed for Juventus, and yet in that time, the duo boast the same number of goals in a fixture Ronaldo doesn't even compete in.

Is this a massive coincidence? Probably. But it's nice to think that after pushing each other and being one another's motivation to improve for almost a decade, there is some truth behind the idea that they need their rival to truly hit their peak.

Whether it's a lack of Ronaldo in his life, or a lack of good teammates, El Clasico appears to have finally gotten the better of Messi, just as he readies himself to wave goodbye to the biggest fixture in world football.

One thing is for sure though, no matter how few goals he scores in this fixture, it'll be a whole lot more miserable without him. Stay another year, Leo, and get this monkey off your back.