Soccer — Spanish king’s cupTuesday, January 28, 2014
Messi assists keep Barça on course for trophies
Finds new role after brief dip in scoring
The four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi found a new role during his last matches for Barcelona as his brief dip in scoring was replaced by assists to his teammates.
MADRID — Lionel Messi has set the bar so high for himself that even a brief dip in scoring form immediately raises eyebrows but it also allows other aspects of his game to be recognized.
The Argentina forward’s incredible goals tally in recent years — he has netted 47, 53, 73 and 60 goals respectively in the past four seasons — has unsurprisingly stolen the limelight from the number of assists he makes for his teammates.
But he is also an important link to his fellow attackers, often dropping deep to collect the ball from a midfielder or defender before passing it on or making a trademark weaving dash towards goal.
Opponents desperately trying to thwart him are dragged out of position and that creates space for Barça’s other forwards like Pedro and Alexis Sánchez or roving playmaker Cesc Fábregas.
Messi, who has not scored in three La Liga appearances this month since returning from injury, set up all three of winger Cristian Tello’s goals in last week’s King’s Cup quarterfinal, first leg at Levante.
Barça won the game 4-1 and are overwhelming favourites to advance to the semifinals when the teams meet for the return leg at the Nou Camp tomorrow.
“Messi can do whatever he wants because he is capable of everything,” Barca coach Gerardo Martino told a news conference after Sunday’s 3-0 La Liga win at home to Málaga.
Messi, who has been scoring freely in the Cup and netted four against Getafe in the last 16 in a 6-0 aggregate success, set up Pedro for the second and also had a hand in the third scored by Alexis.
“He is very precise in assisting teammates and he draws the attention of opponents,” added Martino, who like Messi hails from the Argentine city of Rosario.
“Messi always brings us a great deal,” centre back Gerard Piqué, a contemporary of the Argentine at Barça’s academy, told reporters. “When he is not scoring he makes a lot of assists and he gives fluidity to our play.”
If Barça gets past Levante as expected, it will play La Liga rival Real Sociedad or third-tier Racing Santander in next month’s two-legged semifinals.
Santander is the surprise package of this year’s competition but needs to overturn a 3-1 deficit when it hosts Sociedad on Thursday if it is to advance.
On the other side of the draw, holder Atlético Madrid takes a 1-0 lead to Athletic Bilbao tomorrow and Real Madrid, which lost 2-1 to Atlético in last year’s final, has the same advantage when it hosts Espanyol today.