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Messi rallies Barca ahead of Clasico

Updated: 2013-02-26 07:57
By Agence France-Presse in Madrid ( China Daily)

 Messi rallies Barca ahead of Clasico

Lionel Messi will meet Christiano Ronaldo again in Tuesday's Spanish Cup. Albert Gea, Miguel Vidal / Reuters

Lionel Messi admits Barcelona needs to raise its level after two below par performances for Tuesday's El Clasico in the Spanish Cup against a Real Madrid side desperate for a morale boost.

Barca made an almost faultless start to the season, only dropping points in the league before Christmas with a 2-2 draw with Real Madrid at the Nou Camp, while it also lost against Celtic in the group stage of the Champions League.

But now signs of tiredness are beginning to set in.

"Against Madrid we will have to produce our best football as we will be against a great rival. We need to be at our best in order to get into the final," said Messi, ahead of the semifinal showdown in the Catalan capital with the score 1-1 from the first leg at the Bernabeu.

The teams then go head-to-head again in the league at the weekend, but with Madrid trailing Barca by 16 points in the table there is little more than pride at stake.

While Barca was expected to roll over AC Milan last week in the Champions League in typical fashion, in the end it was unable to break down a well-organized but not remarkable defense as it lacked the movement and the speed of passing.

Even four-time world player of the year Messi was largely anonymous as his team had plenty of possession but was well contained.

At the back its defense was opened up on the rare occasions Milan attacked and it got two goals to give it a significant advantage ahead of the return leg.

Barca was again lacking potency in attack in the first half against Sevilla at the weekend and went behind before turning the game around in the second with goals from David Villa and Messi.

The Argentine continued his record-scoring run in the league to 15 straight games and will be looking to add to his tally against Madrid but there is also plenty of concern about the team's leaky defense.

"We need to get back to playing how we were doing before and not think about what happened in Milan or the Sevilla game.

"We took on Sevilla on the back of a bad result and that was noticeable, but we got ourselves going in the end. It is difficult for us not be distracted by Milan and although we didn't play well then we shouldn't allow it to get to us," said Messi.

"The Cup and the Champions League are down to us and we aren't concentrating on the opposition. Physically the team is in good shape and I am used to playing in all the games," he said.

For Madrid it is the first of two make-or-break games with the other coming in the Champions League against Manchester United.

It struggled once again away to Deportivo la Coruna at the weekend with a weakened side and Cristiano Ronaldo was among those brought on in the second half to turn the game around and give it a 2-1 win.

"We have a big squad and the coach (Jose Mourinho) wanted to put out the freshest players. What was important was the victory and now we can think about the game on Tuesday.

"We are really up for the game and fully motivated as we know that the next few weeks will be crucial for us with the Cup and then the Champions League game," said Gonzalo Higuain.


Kaka awaits chance in Spanish Cup

Playmaker Kaka is hoping to be involved as Real Madrid tries to salvage its season when it travels to face Barcelona in the second leg of its Spanish Cup semifinal on Tuesday.

The Brazilian scored and helped set up Gonzalo Higuain's winner as Madrid came from behind to win 2-1 at Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday and having started three consecutive league games for the first time this season he said he can feel his confidence returning.

"I don't want to talk again about the return of Kaka but I feel much better," he said.

"I am there if the manager needs me and I need to be well-prepared for the crucial part of the season."

Assistant boss Aitor Karanka also hinted after the game that the former Milan man could be involved on Tuesday and hailed his return to form in recent weeks.

(China Daily 02/26/2013 page22)

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