When your best player doesn't score, it's hard to win. This, at least, has been the mantra coming out of the Spanish press for the last couple of days: when Lionel Messi doesn't score, Barcelona do not win. This, of course, is a pretty absurd oversimplification, but it does have just enough truth to it that "newspapers" like Marca, or Sport can claim that it represents reality. Barça is 0-2 in their last two matches; Leo Messi did not score in either of them.
At the same time, the little Argentine genius did not disappear, as some have suggested: he created chance after chance for his side, but was rewarded by players missing sitters, or keepers playing God (hello, St. Iker). Assists aren't assists without the goal part--which is, honestly, a major flaw in how we judge a player's offensive production. Even the Goals Created statistic (GC = Goals + Assists) that I try to use (and believe better captures a player's offensive production than either goals or assists on their own) relies heavily--in fact, is premised on--the idea that an assist creates a goal.
Well, Messi didn't create a goal in the last two games. Which is pretty rare for him--he averages more than two and a half goals created in home games alone. But that doesn't mean he played badly, per se.
However, he was subdued (for him) for large swaths of Barcelona's loss to Chelsea, and was effectively shut down for much of the match against Real Madrid. Sure, he created some opportunities--squandered by Xavi and Tello in the Madrid match, for instance--but he couldn't elevate his individual game to the Godlike levels culés have come to expect. There was no last-minute equalizer, no brilliant run past three defenders that lead to a brilliant chip over Petr Cech or Iker Casillas. There were a couple great passes, a nice run into space.
So, what does this mean for tonight? Well, it's unclear. It's possible that Messi is hiding an injury: he tweaked his groin against Chelsea, and might have been playing through pain for the past few days and will be better tonight--he did sit out practice on Sunday to rest. But it's also entirely possible that he simply is going through a slump. And if that's the case, Barcelona could be in a bit of trouble...though there's always the possibility that he will pick tonight's match to spectacularly bust out.
Whatever the case with Messi, I think we can all agree that his presence, his want--or lack thereof--could easily determine the fate of the tie.
We'll have pre-game and live game coverage in our Barcelona vs. Chelsea, 2012 UEFA Champions League StoryStream. For more on the two teams, head over to Chelsea FC blog We Ain't Got No History and FC Barcelona blog Barca Blaugranes.