Just before Saturday’s game against Real Betis, Lionel Messi was once more in the headlines. This time it was because Ronald Koeman had decided to put him on the bench for the first time in over a year.
The Argentine had the last word, of course, entering the game for the second half and still managing to notch two goals and to create another as he steered his team to victory.
Those two goals make him Barcelona’s leading scorer with six, one ahead of Ansu Fati. Furthermore, his second against Real Betis was his first this season from open play, having only scored penalties until then.
In truth, it only took Messi a quarter of an hour to settle the match after being substituted on to start the second half with the score tied at 1-1. Within three minutes he let the ball run onto Griezmann who finished gladly and on 61 minutes the No.10 made it 3-1 from the spot.
After Real Betis got one back and when his team needed him most, Messi appeared again to give Barcelona some breathing space. Against the block of Manuel Pellegrini’s team, we saw the Argentine close to his best.
Messi being benched may have surprised everyone, but the reasons soon became apparent when assistant coach Alfred Schreuder declared pre-match to Movistar that he wasn’t feeling fresh.
After the match, Koeman expanded upon this, explaining that his star player had been suffering with an ankle problem since Wednesday’s Champions League game and so the idea was to only call upon him if needed, as he turned out to be.
Messi’s performance puts an end to a week that hasn’t been short of controversy after his attitude against Dynamo Kyiv was criticised by some for not pressing in the closing stages. A video clip shared of the forward walking sparked all kinds of chatter.
Against Real Betis, in timely fashion before the international break, he has shown his importance to Barcelona once again.