Football

It’s horrible to play without fans: Lionel Messi

Barca star likens it to training sessions, adding 'it is very tough to really get going at the start of a game'

Barcelona's Lionel Messi has explained how tough it has been to play without fans in the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, likening the experience to a training session.

"It's horrible to play without fans, it's a very ugly sensation," Barcelona captain Messi told Madrid-based daily Marca on Monday, after receiving the "Pichichi" award for the top scorer in La Liga last season.

"Seeing no-one in the stadium is like a training session and it is very tough to really get going at the start of a game."

The new normal of empty stadiums has certainly taken its toll on Messi and Barca.

They were top of La Liga with 11 games to go when the last season was disrupted by the pandemic, but they surrendered the title to Real Madrid when play resumed in empty stadiums.

They also suffered a humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in an empty Estadio da Luz in Lisbon in August.

This season, they have made their worst start in 33 years and are fifth in La Liga, way off the pace of leaders Atletico Madrid, while they failed to finish top in their Champions League group for the first time since 2006/07.

The 33-year-old Messi, meanwhile, is having his worst individual season since the 2007/08 campaign, scoring only nine goals in all competitions, five of which have been penalties.

In a separate interview, the Argentinian told Spanish broadcaster La Sexta that his frustrations with Barca and his failed attempt to leave the club in the summer have affected his form.

"Everything that happened before the summer, how the season ended, then the burofax and everything else... I dragged everything into the start of the season a bit," said Messi.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner also opined that the absence of fans has been a leveller for smaller clubs. He told Marca: "The truth is it's very ugly and that's why we are seeing such evenly matched games. It's very difficult to win, regardless of who you are playing against.

"The pandemic has caused football to change a lot, and for the worse. You can see it in the matches."

Supporters have been absent from Spanish top-flight games since March, but are set to return from next April once a large section of the population has received Covid-19 vaccines.

According to Spanish media, the first game with fans will be last season's postponed Copa del Rey final between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao, due to take place on April 4. - REUTERS

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