Messi masterclass papers over Barca cracks
BARCELONA - Agence France-Presse
Barcelona's Lionel Messi kicks the ball trying to beat Ajax's goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen during the Group F Champions League match between AFC Ajax and FC Barcelona at ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. AP PhotoLionel Messi enjoyed another landmark European night as he equaled the Champions League scoring record against Ajax but doubts remain over Luis Enrique's Barcelona side after a stuttering start to the season.
The coach found himself in the eye of a storm after Barca suffered back-to-back La Liga defeats and although they beat Ajax 2-0 on Wednesday to book a place in the last 16, their football was far from fluid, especially in the first half.
Messi came to the rescue with a double that saw him draw level with Raul on 71 goals at the top of the Champions League all-time scoring charts.
Cristiano Ronaldo is one adrift having missed out on the chance to add to his tally in Real Madrid's 1-0 win over Liverpool on Tuesday.
"I am happy for Leo, for the work he does for the team and because he is the number one, the best," midfielder Xavi told reporters.
Barca have nine points from four games in Group F and are a point off leaders Paris St Germain, who beat them in France.
"In the first half, they (Ajax) were in control but after that we played better and got three points which will give us confidence.
"We need to keep going and winning matches. We needed to win this game and we played some good football at times. We also had some difficult moments but we were playing away and in the Champions League.
"Ajax played pressed high up the pitch and it is normal that it would not be easy but the result is a boost."
Barca followed up a defeat in the El Clasico against Real Madrid with a home loss at the hands of Celta Vigo which knocked the Catalans off top spot in La Liga and they are now down in fourth, on 22 points from ten games.
The defeats led to an inquisition over Luis Enrique's tactics with the coach having chopped and changed his side constantly and there is also talk of dressing room unrest.
In midfield, Barca began the season with Ivan Rakitic as the focal point and Xavi as little more than a bit-part player but now the veteran has reasserted his influence.
His control in midfield during the second half against Ajax coincided with Barca's best play.
Most questions have been asked about the defence though, where both fullbacks Dani Alves and Jordi Alba have been off-form.
Luis Enrique surprisingly left out Alba for the El Clasico game and instead started Jeremy Mathieu, who was untried in that position for Barca.
In central defence, the debate has focused on Gerard Pique who was left out of the squad against Celta and was an unused substitute in Amsterdam.
"The style is the same now as it was before. After a defeat you don't change your style, you just have to keep going," Xavi added.
"The style has been the same all the time that Luis Enrique has been in charge.
"It is down to the coach who plays. Pique is very important and he will be all season. The coach has decided to play others and we are all working to start the games. Gerard is working hard and he will have his chances."