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BARCELONA

Messi needs fine-tuning ahead of Lyon test in Champions League

Barça's Argentine star lost possession and missed passes uncharacteristically against Rayo Vallecano while scoring goal 650 of his 800 matches.

In absolute terms, Lionel Messi did what he had to do against Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. He scored a goal, his 26th of the season in LaLiga, which means he continues to lead the race for the Golden Shoe, and he also assisted Gerard Piqué for his side's opener which allowed Barcelona to go in at the half-time with some piece of mind at 1-1.

Messi, in bursts

The Argentine's overall numbers for the match, however, didn't particularly impress. It could be that for a game against lowly Rayo ahead of a Champions League second leg in the balance, he played with the handbrake on. Maybe it was just a symptom of the lull he is going through. The truth is that Messi lost possession of the ball 31 times out of the total 126 that Barça lost during the game. One out of every four. As well as this disappointing statistic, Messi misplaced 14 passes (20.3% of the team), something we're not prone to see. His genius absent at times throughout the game, it can be said that he was still involved enough to get the job done. Where have we heard that before?

Lionel Messi under pressure against Rayo.

The last three games played have not seen Messi near his best. After his tremendous showing in Seville, he did not shine as we would expect in either of the Clásicos and likewise against Rayo. There appears to have been some discomfort in his play ever since the problems picked up against Valencia.

However, Messi is possibly choosing to play in bursts. In the Argentine's own words, he wants to bring back Champions League trophy he described as 'special', 'unique' and 'beautiful' to Barcelona, a challenge unconquered since 2015. He has a clear focus on European glory and aims to refind the form that we saw in the group phase, where he scored a hat-trick against PSV and delivered a memorable display at Wembley (two goals, two posts). He knows that the Camp Nou face off against Olympique Lyon carries with it an èlement of his own prestige, after three consecutive eliminations in the quarter-finals. An exit this early would be seen as a huge failure for Barça.