When Lionel Messi goes 452 minutes without scoring a goal, the football world starts to panic.
The Argentine extended his goalless run to five games as Barcelona crashed out of the Champions League to Atletico Madrid. He was anonymous throughout, his two best chances coming from free-kicks that he fired harmlessly over the bar.
But it’s not exactly hard to see why Messi is suffering. Viewers of Wednesday night’s game will have noticed the 28-year-old propping up in midfield, collecting the ball deep in a similar role to the one Sergio Busquets plays.
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And Busquets hasn’t scored a single goal this season. Nobody expects him to find the net from his position in front of the back four.
Broadcaster beIN SPORTS tracked the forward’s touches during the game and the heat map makes for pretty grim reading. Check it out below.
Messi's heat map vs. Atletico Madrid
It’s hardly surprising Messi was such a non-factor when he only had a handful of touches inside Madrid’s box.
Future central-midfield role
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is expected to drop deeper in coming seasons in order to prolong his career at Barcelona, something he even discussed in an interview last year.
But nobody expected it at 28. Messi is in his prime years and his only focus should be scoring goals, not helping to initiate attacks. That is the job of Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Ivan Rakitic and Arda Turan.
Ryan Giggs extended his days at Manchester United by becoming a centre-midfielder and Messi admitted doing the same is something he will consider.
“I am happy to play as a forward, as a deep forward, in the middle - I just hope that I can keep going," he told Squawka.
“There are many players who have prolonged their careers by playing in a different place, where maybe you don't rely on being so explosive all the time, on your speed.
“A lot of players drop deeper when they move into the later stages of their career, and that's certainly an option for me, to become an out-and-out midfielder.
“I have played in midfield a lot already, and I cover a lot of ground there."
Messi appeared desperate at the Vicente Calderon last night, almost as if he had forgotten Barcelona are the greatest team in the world and thought he could do the job on his own.
His teammates Luis Suarez and Neymar also suffered - the MSN trio that has scored 109 goals combined was completely out of sync.
Antoine Griezmann’s brace secured Atletico’s place in Friday’s semi-final draw, where they will meet Manchester City, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
Given how easily Diego Simeone's side were able to stifle Messi over two legs, they might be the most feared team left in the tournament.
Is Lionel Messi on the decline? Have your say in the comments section below!
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