While Karim Benzema was tapping in back-heeled goals and Toni Kroos was converting set-pieces on the edge of the box, Barcelona instead had to turn to central defender Oscar Mingueza to offer some second-half inspiration with his unexpected goal.
Indeed, this potential Spanish title decider was a game that Messi struggled to dictate from start to finish and when we look at the stats throughout the match we can see exactly why.
How Messi struggled against Real Madrid
Perhaps the most obvious issue with Messi’s performance on Saturday night was the fact that the forward failed to score a single goal. The Argentina international was in fine form going into El Clasico, with 10 goals from his last 10 games but on a wet, water-logged pitch in Madrid the Barcelona star truly struggled.
For example, over the course of the game Messi managed to hit seven shots towards goal. No other player on the pitch managed to attempt as many, but it’s worth bearing in mind that only two of those seven chances were on target and one of those on-target attempts was a back-post volley that was smothered by Thibaut Courtois.
Indeed, “smothered” is probably the perfect word to describe Messi’s output over the course of the night. Aside from the two chances he got on target, the other five shots that the Barcelona forward attempted were in fact blocked by nearby Madrid players. Wherever the tricky forward went, there always seemed to be a nearby defender to snuff him out.
If Messi couldn’t score himself, he could at least try and create goals for his team mates. But, again, this was another area of the player’s game that was uncharacteristically lacking throughout the game.
On Saturday Messi managed just two key passes, one through ball and four crosses in open play. And while he touched the ball and passed it more than most Barcelona players, he also lost possession seven times - more than any other player on the pitch.
While Messi was by no means the worst player on the pitch for Barcelona, he also wasn’t the best either. And, considering the standards the player sets himself, he’ll undoubtedly be disappointed with how Saturday’s El Clasico went.