Messi in attack, messy in defence - Barca back line a worry ahead of Juventus & Madrid tests

Lionel Messi Barcelona Real Sociedad La Liga
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Luis Enrique's side beat Real Sociedad to stay in the race for La Liga, but they will need to defend better than this in their next two matches


Four hundred and ninety eight and counting. Lionel Messi closed in on 500 goals for Barcelona with two against Real Sociedad on Saturday night and they turned out to be very important. Because at the other end of the pitch, the Catalans were decidedly shaky throughout.

Messi at the double as Barca beat Real Sociedad

Luis Enrique's side had conceded five in their last two games: two in the 2-0 loss at Malaga in the Primera Division at the weekend and then three more in their Champions League quarter-final first leg away to Juventus on Tuesday.

That is not good enough for a team looking to win the biggest trophies and it carried on at Camp Nou on Saturday as Barca cruised into a 2-0 lead through Messi (via one sensational strike from outside the box and another from close range), only to let the Basques back in it. Not once, but twice.

Real Sociedad pulled a goal back for 2-1, and although Paco Alacer (in for the suspended - and badly missed - Neymar) restored the Catalans' two-goal advantage almost immediately, Xabi Prieto struck to close the gap again ahead of the interval.

Paco Alcacer Lionel Messi Barcelona Real Sociedad La Liga

It seems in recent times that every time a rival side attacks against Barcelona, it ends up in a goal. Samuel Umtiti was unfortunate for the first as the ball bounced off his body and went in, but Prieto was allowed time and space to march clear and slot home the second.

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Barca's best defender, Gerard Pique, failed to make a tackle or an interception in the opening 70 minutes of the match, while the midfield featuring the under-fire Andre Gomes alongside Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets appeared to provide little in the way of protection either.

Real Sociedad are a good team and are challenging for a place in Europe next season and Barca have struggled against the Basques at Anoeta in recent years. But at Camp Nou, the Catalans had won their last 18 matches versus the northern outfit, scoring 51 goals in the process.

They added another three here to keep up that ratio, while Messi's double sees him move to within just two of an amazing total of 500 strikes for the Catalan club - and that at the tender age of 29.

Paco Alcacer Barcelona Real Sociedad La Liga

Ivan Rakitic Barcelona Real Sociedad La Liga

But Messi will know that Barca need to be better than this and when the final whistle sounded, his was a serious expression despite the win. And moments later, he was immersed in deep conversation with fellow forward Luis Suarez.

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It is not hard to imagine what they may have been saying. Because Barcelona's brilliant attack remains the best around and that gives the team a chance of beating any adversary - especially when Messi is on his game. And he has been for most of this season.

But at 3-0 down in the tie against Juventus, Barca need a performance in attack and also in defence on Wednesday to have any hope at all of producing a comeback and knocking out Massimiliano Allegri's impressive side. And the same applies for the Clasico clash at the Santiago Bernabeu next Sunday, which will be key to the outcome of La Liga.

Messi's magic means this team is capable of anything, even when Neymar is not there, but in order to compete for La Liga and also the Champions League, the defence (be it three or four at the back, as against La Real) will need to do much better than they did on Saturday.