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He may be the greatest talent on the planet, but from 12 yards the Argentine has shown himself to be distinctly human, and Barca must take action

ANALYSIS
By Robin Bairner

It is argued by some that Lionel Messi is the greatest player of all time, and it is certain that he’s already established himself as one of the iconic players of his generation, but against Chelsea, Barcelona’s No.10 contrived to show the world his great Achilles heel, the aspect of his game that often goes forgotten and almost inevitably goes unmentioned: his weakness from the penalty spot.

Messi’s fragility from such situations cannot be ignored now, though. The Argentine’s failure from 12 yards, lifting a shot against the face of Petr Cech’s bar early in the second half, was the defining moment of Barcelona’s Champions League semi-final failure against Chelsea. The Blaugrana would go on to lose 3-2 on aggregate, having seemingly been strapped tightly into the driving seat just before half-time when they led 2-0 on the night, 2-1 in the tie and enjoyed numerical supremacy against their Premier League opponents.

Six inches were the difference between the Ballon d’Or winner and ‘the perfect penalty’, but as is so often the case in sport, the finest margins can make all the difference. Instead of being 3-2 up and once again in control, Barca continued to trail on away goals.

 LIONEL MESSI | THE MISSED PENALTIES
DATE OPPOSITION
RESULT COMPETITION OUTCOME
31/01/08 Villarreal 1-0 Copa Saved (left)
12/11/08 Benidorm 1-0 Copa Rebound(right)
11/04/09 Recreativo 2-0 La Liga Saved (left)
14/09/10 Panathinaikos 5-1 CL Saved (right)
19/01/11 Betis 1-3 Copa Over the bar
22/10/11 Sevilla 0-0 La Liga Saved (right)
01/02/12 Valencia 5-1 La Liga Saved (right)
25/04/12 Chelsea 2-2 CL Hit bar

Missing from the spot is not something new in Messi’s career, but it is an issue that needs addressing by coach Pep Guardiola. Frittering away such chances in run-of-the-mill matches in La Liga may be a luxury that Barcelona can afford in the day-to-day business of domestic football, but at the very highest level, at which defensive slips are rare, profligacy of this sort is nothing short of criminal, and in this case, fatal.

There can be little doubt that Messi’s Pichichi rivalry with Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo has influenced the decision of the player – and potentially Guardiola – to retain his penalty duties, but the facts are that the Argentine’s record in this regard is remarkably mediocre for a player otherwise seen as simply remarkable.

Eight times in his club career the 24-year-old has failed from the spot, including three times alone this term

Eight times in his club career the 24-year-old has failed to convert, including three times this term alone, which does not make for an impressive strike-rate given that he has struck only 34 penalties.

His latest miss happens to be his most expensive, and while the player is no doubt keen to show his character by taking the next penalty, it would be a wiser and more gallant move to allow someone else to show their skill in football’s most nerve-wracking discipline - even if the Blaugrana are not stacked with alternative specialists.

The secret of Barca’s success is their teamwork and cohesion, but such unselfishness must be shown in the dressing room, too. From open play, the Argentine can remain their main man, but over a dead ball there are many more able than he - and until this is accepted at Camp Nou, the risk of another such shock like Tuesday night will always be that little more likely without a reliable presence from 12 yards.

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