The captain was a surprising absence from the starting line-up, but his special abilities were critical to saving his side from losing further points.
On Saturday, after the Argentine came on to ensure his side’s Liga victory over Betis, Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman tried to dispel any controversy over the benching of Lionel Messi.
Messi was a surprising exclusion from the starting line-up of the Blaugrana as they looked to end their painful streak of four league matches without a Camp Nou win.
By half-time, however, Koeman already needed his intervention, throwing him into the action with Barca deadlocked at 1-1 against the Seville side.
Messi made an instant impact, teeing up Antoine Griezmann with a perfect dummy before scoring himself twice, including his first open play goal in the entire 2020-21 season to date.
Teenage sensation Pedri rounded off Barca’s 5-2 stoppage-time victory, but all eyes were on Koeman after the game and his risky decision to keep Messi out of his starting line-up.
After the final whistle, the Dutchman explained to reporters, “We spoke to Leo, who came out of the Dynamo [Kyiv] game with a niggle and he was not fit to play from the start.”
“If we needed him, he was on the bench. He would have played from the start if he was physically OK.”
By the time they took the field on Saturday, Barca’s recent woeful run of form saw the Catalans drop as low as 14th, raising the pressure on Koeman after only a handful of games in the post.
And while they needed the magical intervention of Messi to take three points, the coach was pleased to see his side create opportunities, thus singling out the contribution of Griezmann as the Frenchman bounced back after missing a first-half penalty.
“For how much we needed the points, it’s a major win and I’m pleased with our attacking play,” he added.
“We created a lot of risk, with a lot of chances. It was not fair to draw at the break.
We were better, we missed a penalty, and we had more opportunities. In the second half, we deserved to score.
I hope [Griezmann] keeps working as he’s done so far. To miss you have to be there.
In remaining here and continuing to work hard, I would like to emphasize his character. He knows full well that opportunities have been lost. He’s still there to score, despite his bad luck.