Stats show Messi's lack of influence
Lionel Messi, so often a match-winner for Barcelona in the past, was a peripheral figure as his side crashed out of the Champions League to Atletico Madrid on Wednesday at the Estadio Vicente Calderon.
Atletico won 1-0 on the night, to progress 2-1 on aggregate, and afterwards UEFA's official game statistics showed Messi ran just 6.8 kilometres in the almost 95 minutes of play. This was only 1.4 km more than Barca keeper Jose Manuel Pinto (5.4 km), and just over half of the 12.2 km ran by Atletico's matchwinner Koke.
Messi's average for previous Barca games in the competition this season is 8.2 km. According to UEFA, his pass completion figure against Atletico was also surprisingly low, just 60 percent, compared to 77 percent over his seven Champions League games this term. The numbers backed up a feeling watching the game, especially in the second half, that the Argentine looked forlorn as he wandered on the edge of the action.
Blaugrana coach Gerardo Martino appeared to suggest after the game that playing the four-time Ballon d'Or winner out on the wing, away from Atletico's hard running and tackling midfield, had actually been part of his tactical plan for the game.
“We were looking for a lot of participation from him, but more one-on-ones on the right wing,” Martino told his postmatch press conference. “For that we had Cesc [Fabregas] as a false nine. [Messi] had two chances due to diagonal balls and him coming inside to meet the ball. He was not so involved in the second half, that is true.
"It did not seem a good idea to us for him to participate a lot in the game which Atletico play. We do not base everything on Leo, also on Cesc coming deeper, on Neymar and Andres [Iniesta] on the left, on the full-backs."
Neymar ran nine kilometres in total, and Iniesta managed 7.7km in his 500th Barca appearance before being surprisingly withdrawn by Martino with 20 minutes remaining. It was first assumed that the midfielder must have had an injury problem, however he told Canal Plus afterwards of his surprise when he saw the No. 8 being held up on the sideline.
“Yes [it was a surprise],” Iniesta said shortly. “But the decision is for the coach to make.”
The 29-year-old said being knocked out of Europe was painful, but pointed out that Barca still had next Wednesday's Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid and the La Liga title race to focus on.
“This should not affect us,” Iniesta said. “The Champions League is a very nice competition, but now we have La Liga and the Copa final. The pain is for today and tomorrow. We must thank our fans who came here, and also congratulate Atletico. But we are going to continue and go for everything we have left.”
Xavi Hernandez (11.8 km) ran the furthest of the Barca players, followed by Jordi Alba (11.5 km), Alves (10.8 km) and Marc Bartra (10.7 km). Behind Koke in Atletico's statistics came his fellow midfielders Gabi Fernandez (11.7 km), Raul Garcia (11.6 km) and Tiago (11.3 km). In all Atletico's players ran a total of 110.3 km, just slightly ahead of Barca's 107.8 km total.