Lionel Messi was not among the veteran Barcelona stars Ronald Koeman called on to step up prior to Wednesday’s win against Elche, the coach insists.
Barca headed into the match at Camp Nou having endured consecutive disappointing results in their previous two games, losing 4-1 at home to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League and then conceding a late equaliser to Cadiz in a 1-1 draw.
While Koeman has come to rely heavily on teenagers Pedri and Francisco Trincao this season, it was the more experienced players he demanded more from in his pre-match news conference on Tuesday.
That would presumably include Messi, the team’s 33-year-old captain, but Koeman explained after overseeing a 3-0 victory that he had not been referring to his talisman.
Messi moved up a gear anyway, scoring with two of his three shots, creating a further chance and playing a role in the build-up to Jordi Alba’s clinching goal.
The Barca number 10 certainly could not be questioned after increasing his 2021 tally to 13 goals in all competitions, the most of any player in Europe’s ‘top five’ leagues.
“When I talk about veterans, I don’t mean him,” Koeman said. “Leo continues to score many goals.
“Others have to make a difference, not Messi. He continues to score, as he has shown today.”
3 – Top three players from the top five European league with the most goals in 2021 in all comps:
13 – LIONEL MESSI
12 – Robert Lewandowski
10 – Erling Braut Haaland
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) February 24, 2021
Messi was not immediately joined in lifting Barca’s level as Trincao attempted the hosts’ only two shots in the first half, their lowest tally in the opening 45 minutes of a home game this season.
Koeman had no issue then with Messi making his frustration clear during a tetchy first period.
“Everyone has seen that we lacked intensity and rhythm of the ball, especially,” the coach explained. “It is good that Messi, as captain, asks for intensity.”
Seven attempts followed after the interval, with all three of those on target hitting the net, while Koeman ended an eight-match run without a clean sheet.
“It was good,” Koeman said. “The lack of rhythm was not due to a lack of attitude.
“Sometimes the opposition make things not go the way you want. We are human. The team has shown personality and desire.”
Still third but now within five points of LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid, Koeman was hopeful the mood in the Blaugrana camp would improve with the much-needed victory.
“Surely, having won today, tomorrow will be different,” he said. “It is normal [to be upset] if you drop two points against Cadiz when it was time to cut back those at the top.
“You have to close this bad feeling with good games and good results.”