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EUROPE > Messi rallies Barca ahead of Clasico

MADRID - Agence France-Presse

Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi urges his teammates to raise their game as Barcelona meets fierce rival Real Madrid in another El Clasico meeting in the Spanish King’s Cup game tonight

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Barcelona’s superstar forward Lionel Messi admits that the Catalan giants are having a slump in form recently and need to be at their best when they play against Real Madrid in the cup. AP Photo

Barcelona’s superstar forward Lionel Messi admits that the Catalan giants are having a slump in form recently and need to be at their best when they play against Real Madrid in the cup. AP Photo

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

Barça 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 Camp Nou, 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 scores 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 Barça by 16 points in the table there is little more than pride at stake.

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

Leaky defense


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

Barça 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 half 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 its 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,” 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 added.

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

Real struggled once again away to Deportivo 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 them 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.

February/26/2013

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