Lionel Messi may have scored the 500th goal of his professional career against Valencia on Sunday night, but the five-time Ballon d’Or winner couldn’t prevent Barcelona from slumping to their third successive defeat.
Messi ended his 515-minute goal drought by scoring in the 63rd minute to haul Barcelona back into the contest; however, the Catalan giants were unable to find the equaliser as they dropped more points in the title race.
After the match, a group of frustrated Barcelona fans waited outside the Camp Nou to give the players a piece of their mind - Messi included.
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According to Spanish newspaper AS, who have obtained footage of the players driving away from the stadium, one disgruntled Barcelona supporter shouted at Messi: “You’re running more now than on the pitch”.
Messi was in his Audi sports car at the time and would not have heard the insult, but it’s clear that the Camp Nou faithful feel the players should take responsibility for the team’s unexpected dip in form.
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Video: Fan accuses Messi of lack of effort
Balague explains why Messi is struggling
Messi’s work ethic has been questioned of late. In the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Atletico Madrid last week, the Argentina international ran just seven kilometres - less than any other player.
Guillem Balague, Sky Sports’ Spanish football expert who has written an in-depth biography on Messi, believes the forward’s muscle injuries are partly to blame for his dip in form.
"He has not scored in five games, and Barcelona depend on a very good Messi,” Balague said after Barcelona lost 2-0 at the Vicente Calderon. "There's two ways to explain this. First, you look at him and he's dropping deeper, he's walking instead of running - although he normally does that - and he doesn't look as sharp.
"When he doesn't feel sharp he doesn't get in the box. As a midfielder, he's good but he's not that great.
"But you can also explain it in a different way. Minutes after the Atletico Madrid game finished a story came out that he has been struggling with muscle problems.
"Not an injury as such, but about three weeks ago he went to Venice to see a nutritionist and he was asking him, 'Why is it I don't feel well at the moment?'
"It could be the training and he's in pain certainly, and all those things have made him perform at a lesser level.
"Some will say it's just excuses, but look back at his last five games and you can see it hasn't been the same Messi. I've checked with the family and the muscle issues are one of the problems that is worrying him."
La Liga title race wide open
Messi will be relieved that his goalscoring drought has now come to an end, but concerned Barcelona may end up completing their capitulation by losing their grip on the Spanish league title.
Luis Enrique’s side now find themselves level on points with second-placed Atletico Madrid - and one point ahead of third-placed Real Madrid - but remain top of the table by virtue of their superior head-to-head record.
Will Barcelona win La Liga - or have they blown it? Have your say by leaving a comment below.
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