Barcelona will be looking for the slightest edge in Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final clash with Real Madrid, yet they arrive in the Spanish capital in the knowledge that facing the European champions in this particular competition could well be Lionel Messi‘s kryptonite.
Almost throughout the entirety of Ernesto Valverde‘s spell in charge at the Camp Nou, it has always been Messi whom those around the Argentine have turned to in order to get the Blaugrana out of a real mess.
As his hat-trick in Saturday’s victory over Sevilla showed, the La Masia graduate is maintaining his peak level in a way that few sportspeople have ever been able to do.
With that being said, there is a certain degree of psychology about the hurdle Messi must leap over at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday.
First it was the ten-match run where he was unable to score a goal on a Premier League ground in the Champions League, which he conquered against Manchester City in February 2014.
Now it’s the fact he’s yet to score a goal against Real Madrid in a Copa del Rey match in seven attempts.
Messi‘s hang-ups are rather curious, especially for somebody so infinitely talented, as many recall how the Argentine developed an anxious habit of throwing up before matches, despite having already won every club honour available at the time.
Perhaps it’s the merciless search of perfection which defines the truly elite individuals in all walks of life, either way it’s a mysterious phenomenon to the mere layperson.
Los Blancos have been on the receiving end of Messi‘s brilliance 18 times throughout the course of his illustrious career, be that in either LaLiga Santander or the Champions League, but for whatever reason in the domestic cup the European champions have always emerged unscathed.
Throughout his time with the Catalan giants, the former Newell’s Old Boys prodigy has faced 24 different teams in the Copa del Rey and he’s failed to score against just two of them.
One is, obviously, Real Madrid, whilst the other is Gramanet, whom he faced on November 2, 2004 in one of his very first appearances in Frank Rijkaard‘s senior team.
The implications of Wednesday’s fixture are significant for both teams with such a sizable portion of the season still to come.
A defeat could hand momentum to the opposing team, something which will inevitably impact the Spanish title race.
Messi has only even tasted victory at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu in a Copa del Rey match once, that came in the 2011/12 edition of the competition.
Iker Casillas, Diego Lopez and Keylor Navas are joined by Juan Carlos Castilla on the list of goalkeepers to keep a clean sheet in the Copa del Rey against Messi.
One third of all the defeats the 31-year-old has endured in the Copa del Rey have come at the hand of Barcelona‘s greatest rival.
For whatever reason, Real Madrid simply have a stifling effect on Messi in the cup, but he has shown an incredible resilience to break-down all comparable psychological barriers over the course of his career.
What Wednesday will show is whether or not he can do so once more, and in doing so hand Barcelona momentum going into the final stretch of LaLiga Santander and Champions League respectively.
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