A week after getting torn apart by Real Madrid in El Clásico, Barcelona turned in another substandard performance, losing to Celta Vigo Saturday. Given the game was at the Camp Nou, that Celta's the team Luis Enrique left to take the Barca job and the winning goal was set up by Barcelona B castoff Nolito, it was a bit of an embarrassing loss. It might not be indicative of future problems, but there's one bubbling up in the form of Lionel Messi's fitness.
There were actually a lot of positives in this game for the Blaugrana, despite the bad result. Rafinha Alcantara started in place of Andres Iniesta and looked better than the Ballon d'Or nominee has all season, while Luis Suárez was probably had the most impact of Barcelona's spectacular attacking trident. Dani Alves was most at fault for the goal, but his defensive lapses were a problem even back in the days when Barca was the best team in the world. It also helped that Celta goalkeeper Sergio Álvarez was excellent and the woodwork lent a hand as well.
What should worry Barcelona, however, is Messi's performance. For the second straight game, the star was mostly invisible. When he did pop up, he looked a step slower than normal and his touch wasn't sharp. This might have something to do with the fact that he reportedly took pain injections in his ankle to play in the Clásico. If that's the case, he's probably not 100 percent yet, though Barcelona would never admit that. The club is in a bind: when they report Messi's knocks, supporters wonder why he's playing at all, but detractors think the club is making excuses for less-than-spectacular performances.
Coming off a poor performance in the Clásico, with a Champions League game at Ajax ahead and Suárez now available, it's odd that Messi's playing at all. The team didn't have much of a problem getting results last season when Messi was out as long, as Neymar was fully fit and spearheading the attack. But when Messi plays, they depend on him, and depending on an unfit Messi to create everything leads to Barcelona creating very little.
Buying Suárez was a good idea simply because a team can never have too many players of that quality, and he should make a perfect compliment for Messi and Neymar. But another benefit of buying Suarez is that Messi can sit out home games against Celta Vigo that fall between a Clásico and a Champions League encounter when he's carrying a knock.
Barcelona still haven't learned their lesson. They've played Messi through injury, to the detriment of both his form and their results, for the past two seasons. It's pretty shocking they haven't learned their lesson yet, and they certainly haven't earned the benefit of the doubt from fans in handling his injuries.
Despite two losses in a row, this team certainly isn't failing. Barcelona just need to give Messi a rest.