Tata Martino has defended Lionel Messi from criticism and praised the forward’s performance in Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Athletic Bilbao.
Messi scored the second goal for the Catalans as they came from behind to beat Ernesto Valverde’s Champions League chasers and AS reports that Martino offered an explanation for Messi’s recent perceived slump.
“It has to be considered how our rivals play against us. This is a problem Barca has had for a long time,” the Coach said.
“When teams defend with many players near the penalty area, it’s an uphill battle.
“I don’t think Messi has changed the way he is playing but this was a game where he felt better.
“I haven’t had any reason to talk to him and nor will I next week. We do talk but about other things.
“I was happy for his goal, for him and the team. He isn’t a big talker but he does his talking on the pitch.
“Out of 100 games, he plays well in 99 and always delivers. This week has been a little rough so I was happy for Messi.”
Martino added that the game against Athletic was a difficult one, admitting he thought Barca were on a hiding to nothing after seeing the trajectory of the early going.
“After the first-half I thought the game wasn’t made for us,” Martino confirmed.
“It’s not normal that a team makes that many chances to score but doesn’t take them. But the players had a lot of heart and knew how to turn it around.
“It was difficult but they always had a lot of courage.”
Martino was asked about Alexis Sanchez and Pedro, who both started the match having missed recent fixtures. Alexis in particular is said to have been unhappy with being out the side, according to Press reports.
“If you ask me about Pedro and Alexis I’ll tell you. Both of them give everything they have and they played together and weren’t distracted,” Martino continued.
“They were exhausted from running but committed to the team and scoring goals.
“I’m sure Alexis was upset [at not playing in the Copa del Rey final] but so would anyone be if they didn’t play in an important game.
“I wasn’t even aware of what had been published until we were on the train yesterday and Alexis and I joked about it.”