With El Clasico looming, Barcelona ace Lionel Messi seemed convinced last night’s referee in a 1-0 win over Valladolid was eager to trigger a suspension that would see him miss the world’s biggest derby on Saturday.
Along with midfielder Frenkie de Jong, the Argentine came into Monday’s clash at the Camp Nou riding four yellow cards.
Another added to his tally then would have automatically resulted in a one-match ban.
But with La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid slipping up at Sevilla 24 hours previously through a 1-0 defeat, coach Ronald Koeman had to take a risk.
Victory would result in the Blaugrana pulling within a point of Diego Simeone’s men, and Koeman therefore fielded his strongest side possible.
His gamble paid off, with De Jong and Messi both coming out of the tie unscathed, yet the Ballon d’Or holder was convinced that the ref had it in for him.
Heading off the pitch at the interval, Messi complained about Santiago Jaime Latre, with his comments picked up by Movistar+.
“The referee wants to give me a yellow card, incredible,” said Messi to club member of staff Carles Naval.
Messi pep talk in the tunnel: “We have to step it up a gear, we have to play with more rhythm. We have to win this however we can”
— Samuel Marsden (@samuelmarsden) April 5, 2021
Elsewhere, Messi won plaudits for his leadership skills when separate footage was also transmitted by the same local broadcaster.
In the tunnel, with the score tied at 0-0 before the second half, he was caught rousing the troops by demanding: “We have to step it up a gear, we have to play with more rhythm. We have to win this however we can”.
“’Messi is not a leader’ [they say]. Just because he isn’t flapping his arms around, or being a cheerleader on the sidelines doesn’t mean he isn’t one,” pointed out one fan.
In any event, the speech clearly worked. Barca began circulating the ball faster – a common criticism of a lackluster opening spell – and eventually found a winner through Ousmane Dembele’s stunning outside-of-the-foot volley in the 90th minute.
With a win over Real Madrid on Saturday, they can finally take the lead in the Spanish top flight until Atletico possibly win the following day, in what would be a massive morale boost considering their disastrous slump earlier in the campaign.