The Argentine wants to get his hands on Europe’s top-tier club trophy once again, but on this evidence he will have to wait…
Lionel Messi has made no bones about his desire to win the Champions League again, but if Barcelona continue like this, he will only be able to touch it in his dreams.
The Argentine star, 32, is drifting into the final years of his career and last tasted European glory in 2015.
Messi, widely considered the best player of all time, has lifted the trophy four times, but only once in the last eight years.
After horrendous collapses against Liverpool and Roma in the previous two seasons, Barca are showing little evidence they will be capable of satisfying Messi’s deepening hunger this season.
Tuesday’s 0-0 home draw with Slavia Prague means the Catalans are unbeaten and lead Group F with eight points from four games, but they have not produced a single convincing display in the competition this season.
They still lead La Liga too, despite a humiliating 3-1 defeat by Levante on Saturday, but these performances aren’t fooling anybody.
Nelson Semedo and Ernesto Valverde said Barcelona needed to react against Slavia Prague, but the backlash never came.
The nerves started early for the hosts, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Clement Lenglet scrambling to keep the ball out at the near post.
Slavia Prague, like in their narrow 2-1 defeat by Barcelona in the Czech capital, didn’t come here to be the whipping boys many still expected.
Lionel Messi, Barcelona vs Slavia Prague
Instead Jindrich Trpisovsky’s side got forward in numbers, unafraid of the cavernous Camp Nou and their opponents’ illustrious history and star-studded line-up.
Gerard Pique was in the book early for taking down the troublesome Peter Olayinka, the Spanish defender’s ninth yellow card in 14 games this campaign. He had seven in 52 appearances last year.
Pique’s malaise now seems worse than his usually slow starts to the season and questions over his frequent extra-curricular activity and business trips are looking increasingly justified.
Nelson Semedo soon joined Pique in referee Michael Oliver’s notebook and Slavia became more daring as Barcelona struggled.
Antoine Griezmann struggled to make relevant contributions from the left, Ousmane Dembele lost the ball time and again on the right, Arturo Vidal ran around like a headless chicken and only Messi threatened.
The Argentine maestro produced one heart-stopping dribble and strike, cannoning the ball against the crossbar in Barcelona’s best opportunity of the first half.
On another occasion he broke in down the left but was denied by a fine Ondrej Kolar save.
Gerard Pique, Lukas Masopust, Barcelona vs Slavia Prague
Slavia then put the ball in Ter Stegen’s net through Jan Boril but the goal was ruled out for offside; a chastening warning for the Catalans, but apparently not enough to shake them from their slumber.
Barcelona left to whistles at half-time, while a striker for their women’s side, Asisat Oshoala, even tweeted: “Take care of the damn ball.”
The hosts did not take heed and barely turned the screw on the visiting minnows, who held on comfortably to their point after the interval.
Vidal had a goal ruled out for offside – Messi’s left foot was fractionally off before he set up the Chilean – and the No.10 missed a good chance himself when Ansu Fati crossed for him.
Barcelona can blame Kolar’s fine performance, or marginal refereeing calls, if they like, but the truth is they aren’t doing enough to support the jewel in their crown, Messi.
The club’s top scorer and five-time Ballon d’Or winner can do it all himself a lot of the time, but not always, and to win the Champions League he needs help.
Barring a shift in form similar to that in January 2015 when Luis Suarez, Messi and Neymar finally clicked to explosive effect, or other deeper changes – axing Valverde, although that is another conversation – it is hard to imagine Messi getting his hands on the Champions League trophy in Istanbul next year.