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Nov 7, 2013

Martino 'never worried' about Messi

Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino admitted he was never concerned about the form of Lionel Messi after the Argentine striker starred in the 3-1 defeat of AC Milan in the Champions League.

• Ledwith: Messi leaves no doubts in Barcelona win
• Paul: Night of regret as Milan fall at Barcelona

Messi both started and finished the scoring, converting a penalty for his first, before a close range finish helped the La Liga leaders through to the knockout stages.

The Argentina international’s brace broke a four-goal drought and helped ease the pressure surrounding his recent form.

However, Martino was never in doubt that his superstar would not end his barren run.

“I was never worried about Messi, because he’d already been through phases like this,” Martino told Mediaset. “It was wonderful to see him convert all that expectation into goals tonight.

“We knew he would’ve resolved the match for us again.”

More pressing for Martino was the two-faced nature of his side’s performance against the Serie A club, Martino admitting the Italians had made life difficult for the Spanish champions.

“It was a game of two halves and two faces,” Martino said. “It was one Barça in the first half and another in the second.

“It was a difficult game, as Gerard Pique’s mistake weighed heavily on us and allowed Milan the chance to get back into the match.”

Meanwhile, AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri has explained his decision to start Mario Balotelli from the bench against Barcelona.

Balotelli was brought on for the second half as Milan trailed by the odd goal but could not spark the Italians to a famous victory at the Nou Camp.

And following the match, Allegri defended the decision to keep the Italy international in reserve, believing it was best for both club and player.

“I did it for Milan and for Balotelli,” Allegri told Sky Sport Italia. “It’s simple, Mario had that injury on international duty and his recent performances were not sharp, so I preferred to start with the pairing that played in the first leg.

“He did some good things in the second half. Of course people expect a lot from him, he has to improve and get accustomed to playing every three days, which he has never really done before coming to Milan. That’s tough both physically and psychologically.

“He did very well on a few occasions tonight, while in others he delayed the pass a bit too long.

“The club hierarchy knew about my choices. I spoke to the president before the game, as I always do, and told him Balotelli was not going to start. I did this for the good of the team and for the good of Balotelli too.”

And while Allegri admitted that Milan’s attack failed to fire against the ‘consistency’ of Barcelona, he was encouraged but his side’s performance against the La Liga leaders.

“It is a particular shame for the third goal, as we had several chances to equalise this evening,” Allegri said. “The real regrets are that we didn’t get the final pass right in a few different attacking situations.

“At this moment playing in Barcelona with this consistency is impressive, as the team showed character and hunger.

“When we get our players back from injury, we will find better performances and results. This performance should give us confidence, as the team kept its belief and shape even after going behind, which it did not do against Fiorentina.”

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