Alexis Sanchez scored a second-half goal as Barcelona and Lionel Messi struggled past RCD Espanyol 1-0 on Friday to remain top of the Spanish league.
Neymar drew two defenders before guiding a pass through both pairs of legs across goal for Sanchez to tap in at the far post for the easy 68th-minute winner
Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino insisted that he Lionel Messi’s recent goal drought is a coincidence after the Argentine failed to net for the fourth consecutive league game.
It is the first time since April 2011 that Messi has gone four games without scoring in La Liga and he appeared on the fringes of the game throughout as Barca struggled to breakdown their city rivals at the Camp Nou.
“I continue to think the same about him,” Martino said after the game “It is difficult to do an individual analysis of a player in every single game, but Leo continues to be the most important player in a team replete with important figures.”
“His manner of playing still offers us a huge amount and if the team continues to win you will see the best of our best players shortly,” he said.
Despite the victory that moves Barca, temporarily at least, four points clear of Atletico Madrid and nine ahead of Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, Messi cut a forlorn figure at the end of the match.
However, in between his goal drought in domestic competition, Messi did net in Barca’s 1-1 draw away to AC Milan in the Champions League and Martino used that goal as his evidence that there is no problem with the four-time World Player of the Year.
“I don’t think he is worried. It is a coincidence, in the same way that it is rare for a player to score at least a goal in every game of half a season [as Messi did last season], it is rare that he goes three or four games without scoring,” he said.
“For me it is three games because he scored in Milan. Today he assisted well, he had a chance with a header and a free-kick that went just past,” Martino said.
“Obviously I would be delighted if he does what he usually does and scores two or three goals every game, but when you set the bar so high and then don’t score it seems like there is a problem. For me, from what I see of him, there is no problem,” he said.
An 11th win in 12 league games for Martino’s men was achieved thanks to a 10th clean sheet in 17 games in all competitions this season.
And while the Argentine admitted that offensively his side were not at their best, he is happy with the improvement they have made at the back in recent weeks.
“Without doubt, along with the end of the game against Atletico Madrid, it was the worst match at home [since Martino’s arrival],” he said.
“We needed pressure, dynamism, speed. We were finding the right players in the right areas, but we lacked the finesse and final pass,” Martino said.
“You could see that more in the first-half. When there are more spaces, like in the last 10 minutes, we created more chances, but to play 90 minutes and the opponent have just one or two chances is good,” he said. “That is something we have improved on a lot since the first few weeks of the season.”