LYON: The image of a frustrated Lionel Messi with his hands on his hips in Barcelona’s 0-0 Champions League draw in Lyon on Tuesday may reverberate the most around the world, but it is Luis Suarez’s form in front of goal that is causing most concern in Catalonia.
Suarez laboured throughout much of the Champions League last 16, first leg in France, although he came as close as anyone to scoring for Barcelona when he fired just wide from a Jordi Alba cutback 20 minutes from time.
Barca’s recent struggles away from home at the business end of the Champions League go on — it is now six matches without an away win in the knockout rounds, with just one goal scored in that time, since beating Arsenal 2-0 three years ago.
Suarez, meanwhile, has now gone 16 away matches without scoring in the competition since a draw at Roma in the group stage in 2015. That adds up to more than 24 hours in total.
“I’d be worried if he were not creating chances, but he has always had chances, he creates them for his teammates, and he is a constant headache for opponents,” said coach Ernesto Valverde in defence of the 32-year-old.
Suarez has 16 goals in all competitions this season, but only one in his team’s last eight matches.
“Maybe he is saving them for the games to come,” added Valverde.
The performance has added to the worries back in Catalonia, with Barcelona “unable to translate their overwhelming dominance into a goal”, as the daily Sport put it on Wednesday.
They had 24 attempts at goal, but just five were on target.
“Nobody had the punch, precision, sharpness or clarity to kill the game,” said El Pais, with Barcelona “victims of a negative run, all blinded, including the infallible Messi. It’s a mystery”.
It is not just their away form in Europe that is an issue — Valverde’s team have now won just one of their last five matches, drawing the other four.
They have scored just once in their last three outings, and that was a Messi penalty against Valladolid last weekend.
While drawing against a Lyon side deprived of their World Cup-winning captain Nabil Fekir due to suspension could be seen as a missed opportunity, the result also needs to be put into context.
Lyon had already taken four points from Manchester City in the group stage and recently beat Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1. They have not lost in Europe this season.
Barcelona should still finish the job in the return at the Camp Nou on March 13. After all, of their last 29 home matches in the competition, they have won 26 and drawn three, losing none.
Messi — who made his 130th Champions League appearance on Tuesday, equalling Andres Iniesta’s tally of games in the competition — has not been at his majestic best in the last couple of weeks, but he has scored 30 goals this season.
It would be wrong to question him, but fatigue has to be a worry for the Argentine and his team.
Tuesday’s game was Barca’s 13th in 2019 in all competitions, and this is an ageing side.
While a young Lyon team featured nine players aged between 20 and 25, Barcelona fielded five players in their 30s at the Groupama Stadium.
All of them — Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Messi and Suarez — are vital, and Valverde needs them at their best in the weeks ahead.
There are two trips to Real Madrid to come in the next 10 days, one in the Copa del Rey and one in La Liga.
An eighth league title in 11 seasons seems likely, but there is work to be done if they are to be the side to end Madrid’s recent dominance in the Champions League, starting up front.