"I'm not 100%."
Lionel Messi told the world something everyone knew. After coming back from injury, Messi has slowly been picking up match sharpness. But in the process, he's failed to find the net, bar for one match against Milan, and the panic mode is on.
Never mind that in Messi's last three starts, Barcelona have won all three matches and even beaten Real Madrid in El Clasico. Forget for a second that Messi has provided key passes and even helped out in defense with vigor. He hasn't scored. Something is wrong. He's on the wane.
At least that's the narrative right now in some people's minds. Messi has scored with such regularity in the past few seasons that going even a few games without is worrying. He's been damned by his superhuman standards. It's like seeing the Flash do a 100m dash in 9.5 seconds. Yeah, that's good, I guess.
Against Madrid, he led all players with five tackles. He was decisive against Celta - handing out an assist and another pass that resulted in an opposition own goal, and only failing to score due to a great performance from Celta's keeper Yoel.
All the sources close to the player have brushed off any suggestions of a crisis. "He sets the bar so high," his coach, Gerardo Martino, said, "that when he doesn't score it feels like a problem."
But the nerves are this time not over one game, it's over three whole games - and they're accentuated by an injury run that stretches to the Champions League quarterfinals last season.
Jorge Messi, his father, has hinted that the injuries have caused psychological damage. He said the number 10 "fears a relapse." Javier Mascherano, a teammate at both Barca and the Argentine national team, also gave hints that Messi wants to save himself a bit for the World Cup next year.
It sets a narrative going into the game tonight. It really would not mean the end of the world if Messi didn't score against Milan, or even if Barcelona drew the game, but it may seem that way reading the papers next morning.'
But, lest we forget what happened after people doubted Messi the last time he did not score for three games?