Barcelona winger Pedro Rodriguez has dismissed suggestions of a link between Lionel Messi's return to fitness and a drop in his own form and the team’s results.
Pedro scored eight goals as Barca won six games in a row either side of the winter break, but has managed just one in eight appearances since Messi, now targeting a return to peak fitness, returned from injury.
The Catalans have also been dropping points, but Spain international Pedro told a news conference on Friday that he did not believe Messi's comeback had had a negative impact.
"Obviously when he was not here other players shared the goals," he explained. "But when he is there, the team is much stronger. We have the best player in the world. We have created chances in recent games but not scored as many as we wanted. But we remain united and confident.
"I do not believe that Messi has lost passion. He is still really motivated. Everything seems to be linked to goals, but he also creates a lot of play for us and brings so much to the team."
Barca, who saw Sandro Rosell resign as president amid an investigation into the Neymar transfer, lost at home for the first time this season against Valencia last Saturday.
But Pedro said he and his teammates remained happy with how the season was going overall.
"I think we are playing well this season," he said. "We lost last week -- we can always improve, but we are satisfied with how we are playing. We are not negative, we are relaxed. Of course the defeat against Valencia hurt, but we must keep going."
That loss saw Barcelona drop off the top of the Primera Division for the first time in 18 months, with Atletico Madrid three points clear and Real Madrid level with Barca in second.
Pedro said the team could not afford to drop any more points at Sevilla on Sunday night, adding: "We know we cannot slip up in La Liga as the path is very difficult. This is a vital game."
Barca colleague Dani Alves spoke out after a low Nou Camp crowd saw Wednesday's 2-0 Copa del Rey semifinal first leg win over Real Sociedad, and Pedro said it was up to the players to lift themselves and win the fans back.
"Of course you notice the lack of fans," he explained. "It is not the same to play in the Camp Nou with 98,000 spectators as with 38,000. We always try to play as well as we can so that the fans enjoy themselves. We will improve, and there will be better games."
He said it was too early yet to look forward to Barca's forthcoming Champions League last 16 games against Manchester City, but praised City coach Manuel Pellegrini and his squad.
"Pellegrini is an excellent coach," he said. "He has always shown that with his different clubs, and he is doing well with City too.
"It is a very difficult game, which we know is coming down the line and is very important for us. We know it will be tough, for the players they have and the season they are having. But we must focus first on Sevilla and other games first."