Messi calls for Barca improvement
Lionel Messi believes Barcelona need to "pull themselves together" and not drive themselves crazy thinking about recent below-par performances ahead of Tuesday's Copa Clasico against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou.
Before last Wednesday's Champions League last 16 first-leg defeat at AC Milan, Barca captain Carles Puyol fuelled confidence at the club by talking about a potential treble trophy haul this season. However, the surprising 2-0 defeat at the San Siro dampened the mood, while Saturday's shaky 2-1 La Liga win over Sevilla did little to raise spirits.
Messi, speaking on Barca TV, said his side could not focus on the negatives from these games as they needed to be at their best in the vital return games against Madrid on Tuesday and Milan on March 12.
"We must not drive ourselves crazy about the result in Milan or the first half against Sevilla," he said. "We have to pull ourselves together because there are some decisive games coming up."
The Copa del Rey semi-final tie is evenly balanced after last month's first leg at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu finished 1-1. That result means a 0-0 draw would send Barca through on away goals to a potential final against either Atletico Madrid or Sevilla.
La Pulga said he and his team-mates would not concern themselves with that possibility, and would instead play their natural game and look to win the match.
"In front of our own fans we do not have any other option than to go for a win against Real Madrid," Messi said. "We cannot start thinking that a goalless draw would see us through. We have to be at our best against Real Madrid, because otherwise we will not get through the tie."
Barca rested many regulars including Puyol, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets against Sevilla, as coach Tito Vilanova and assistant Jordi Roura looked to marshal their resources. With Manchester United also looming in the Champions League, Madrid coach Jose Mourinho took a similar approach, leaving Cristiano Ronaldo, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira on the bench for their 2-1 win at Deportivo La Coruna on Sunday.
Messi said he was happy not to have been given time off against Sevilla.
"For years now I have been used to playing a lot of matches," he said. "My body feels better if it does not rest."
Messi's team-mate Dani Alves feels that Madrid are under more pressure coming into Tuesday's game, as Barcelona's 12-point lead in the La Liga table means they likely have one big trophy in the bag already this season.
Alves told Monday's Mundo Deportivo that Mourinho's side would be extra-motivated as their whole season is on the line in the coming few days.
"I expect a Madrid who will go for everything because their whole season is on the line in the Copa and the Champions League," he said. "We have an important lead in La Liga. It will be a difficult game, as all the Clasicos are, but if we are playing at ten out of ten then we will be back in another big final. It just depends on us."
The Brazil international, who was out-jumped as ex-Barca defender Alberto Botia headed Sevilla in front in Saturday's game, said he was not overly concerned that his side had now conceded in 11 consecutive matches in all competitions.
"That is something we must improve," he said. "But if you win, and achieve your objective, conceding goals is allowed."
Barca's recent stumbles have led to an increased concern that Vilanova's absence, as he receives medical treatment in New York, is having a negative effect on the team's performance.
Alves dismissed this theory, saying that the blaugrana players knew their roles so well at this point that the coach's presence day-to-day was not actually that vital.
"The virtue of Barca is that we have all learned the lesson well," he said. "The teacher goes and everything goes on the same. You see how professional we are without him. Nobody in the club could complain about our behaviour without the boss."