sport news What's wrong with Lionel Messi? Barcelona are failing their icon who is cutting ...

All those years of Argentina trying to be like Barcelona to get the best out of Lionel Messi, and we end up with Barcelona starting to look like Argentina. It wasn't meant to end this way.

In the big games Messi now seems to cut the same forlorn, powerless figure in the Barça shirt as he does in the blue and white stripes. There is an over-reliance on him. He gets given the ball too often and in areas of the pitch that don't maximize the effect he can have on the game.

There is no one to play off of anymore, no Luis Suarez. And there is no one to put defenders on the back foot and take attention away from smothering him as there was once when he had Neymar alongside him.

Barcelona are relying too much on Lionel Messi and the club need to give him more support

Barcelona are relying too much on Lionel Messi and the club need to give him more support

Messi was labelled as 'an ex footballer' by a pundit after his display in the 2-0 loss to Madrid

The result is that Messi looks human and the criticism that for years followed him through his international career is being applied to his performance at club level. Barcelona supporters have not turned, and you'd like to believe they never will. 

But others have. Former Argentina goalkeeper Hugo Gatti is now a pundit on Spanish television. He called Messi an 'ex-footballer' after his display at the Bernabeu at the weekend.

Messi has 23 goals and 16 assists in 30 games this season. He put four past Eibar two weeks ago. He's on a goal every 111 minutes. He has 18 in La Liga and is on course to win his seventh La Liga top scorer award. 

They are not the numbers of player in his last season before retirement. But Marca's more moderate appraisal that he has been 'offering a level of performance below his own standard for six weeks now', is hard to argue with.

The Argentine has no one to play off him after Luis Suarez was ruled out through injury

The Argentine has no one to play off him after Luis Suarez was ruled out through injury

It's true that Suarez' absence has hit him hard. 'We have spoken about it,' the Uruguayan explained in an interview with RAC1 last week. 'It is much easier for him when he plays behind a number nine who is occupying the centre-backs.'

Messi always played without a centre-forward before Suarez arrived in 2014. But when flanked by first Samuel Eto'o and Thierry Henry, and then by David Villa and Pedro, he had wide players who played high on the shoulders of the last defender, forcing teams back, opening space up. Messi played off them and with them in the space that they created it. There is none of that now.

On Sunday, Barça didn't even play a front three. Antoine Griezmann started up front with Messi. Quique Setien's idea is that one of the four midfielders joins from deeper to make up the front three. 

In practice it's not working. Occasionally Arturo Vidal, who Messi likes, can manage it, but as Arthur's one-on-one with Thibaut Courtois on Sunday suggested, he can't. Frenkie de Jong has the pace to do it but he also is struggling to show his best form.

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