Football

MESSI: I'M BACK TO MY BEST

Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi has admitted that he struggled to overcome injuries in Barcelona's first trophyless campaign for six years last season.

As well as the disappointment at club level, Messi suffered the devastation of losing the World Cup final with Argentina and saw Cristiano Ronaldo oust him to win the World Player of the Year for a second consecutive year.

"Last season, I had an inconsistent season. I was out for a long time with injuries and I missed a lot of games," Messi (above) told Barcelona's website.

"When I returned to playing, I didn't feel good. It was a year I have tried to forget quickly to get back to my best with the effort, work and joy with which I have always had and thankfully now I feel very good."

Messi has stormed back to form since this season with 45 goals in 44 games to put Barca in position for just the second treble in the club's history.

Luis Enrique's men lead Real Madrid in La Liga by two points with seven games to play, face Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final and travel to Paris Saint-Germain for the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final tomorrow morning (Singapore time).

"We went through times that we won everything, every year we would win a title and sometimes the fans and us didn't value what we were doing," Messi added.

"We had a bad year when we didn't win anything and now, when the success comes, we give it the importance it deserves and we enjoy it more because we know how difficult it is to achieve."

The one area of Messi's game that has let him down in recent months has been from the penalty spot as the 27-year-old has missed five of his last 11 spot-kicks, including against Manchester City in the last 16 of the Champions League.

"It angers me. Both with Barca and the Argentine national team, I am the penalty-taker and the goalkeepers study you and know you better every time.

"It is true that a well-taken penalty is very difficult to save but, at the moment, it is more difficult for me when I'm taking penalties."

Meanwhile, memories of their agonising Champions League exits in the last two seasons will spur PSG on when they host Barcelona in the first leg of their quarter-final tomorrow morning.

The French champions are desperate to make it to the last four after losing to Barcelona and Chelsea in the quarter-finals in each of the last two seasons, both times on away goals.

But their 3-2 win against the Catalans in Paris in the group stage, and the character they showed to beat Chelsea on away goals in the last 16, despite the sending-off of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the first half at Stamford Bridge, suggest they have what it takes to make the leap forward this time.

Asked if the thrilling win against the Catalans last September could be used as a reference point, PSG coach Laurent Blanc responded: "It is one of many games we have looked at to prepare this match.

"We have looked at what we need to do and what we need to avoid doing. We can draw lessons from that game, because we won it and are one of the only sides in Europe to have scored three goals against Barcelona." - AFP.

Football