• La Liga

Cesc backs Messi to silence Madrid

ESPN staff
February 26, 2013
Lionel Messi has faced some recent criticism from the Madrid camp © Getty Images

Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas says that team-mate Lionel Messi will answer recent criticism from Real Madrid winger Jose Callejon and the Madrid media on the pitch during Tuesday's Copa del Rey semi-final second leg at the Camp Nou.

Reports in the Spanish media accused Messi of verbally accosting both Madrid defender Alvaro Arbeloa and assistant coach Aitor Karanka in the aftermath of last month's first leg at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Callejon then went on to claim the incident showed the Argentine was not the 'good guy' people usually assumed.

Fabregas said that Messi, like all the Barca players, preferred to avoid such off-the-field distractions, and they would do their talking when the game began.

"We are not the type of team that likes to complain to the press," he said. "There are things that have to be said, but we will do our talking on the pitch. Leo is the best when it comes to this. He is very strong mentally and physically. What he wants to do is play, enjoy the game and win."

The 1-1 first-leg draw at the Bernabeu appears to make Barca favourites to progress to May's final against either Atletico Madrid or Sevilla. However, Fabregas recalled a similar situation in last season's quarter-final, when Barca won 2-1 in the first leg in Madrid, but were slightly fortunate to progress after the return game at the Camp Nou finished 2-2.

"It is vital to score, we cannot go into the match and wait to see what happens," he said. "In last year's Copa Clasico return leg, after we had a good result from the away leg, we were nearly eliminated from the competition. Madrid are very dangerous and to go through we will have to play our best football."

The former Arsenal midfielder put Barca ahead in this season's first leg in late January, and the Catalan side missed a number of chances to add to their lead, before Raphael Varane headed a late equaliser for Madrid. Barca could not afford to be so lax in front of goal again, Fabregas said.

"We had our chances to make it 0-2 in Madrid," Fabregas said. "In the return leg we have to be as effective as possible, because they are very effective. We have to take our chances if we want to get to the final."

The build-up to the return game was further heated on Monday when Barca stand-in coach Jordi Roura appeared to deliberately put pressure on referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco not to allow Madrid to be over-physical. Blancos boss Jose Mourinho reacted by ironically claiming he had learned from Barca never to talk about match officials.

Roura was highlighting a viewpoint in Catalonia that Undiano Mallenco let Mourinho's side get away with plenty when Madrid won the 2011 Copa final 1-0 in extra-time. However, the feeling in Madrid is that they are being targeted by referees at the moment, having picked up eight red cards in 13 games this calendar year.

Barca board spokesperson Toni Freixa told Radio Marca on Monday night that by Roura saying Barca's results in games when Undiano Mallenco took charge were relatively bad, he was just setting out the facts, not trying to gain an advantage.

"Roura gave objective information," Freixa said. "He did not get into judging if the referee had done well or badly. I share his opinion 100%."

However, former Barca striker Hristo Stoichkov, who played at the Camp Nou from 1990 to 1998, said Barca should just concentrate on their own game.

"If Mourinho had said what Roura said about referees all hell would have broken out," the current Litex Lovech coach said. "You are better off not complaining about referees, and Barcelona should not worry about it. It does not help you."

Stoichkov said he expected Messi to have more of an influence than in his below-par showing in the 2-0 Champions League defeat at AC Milan last week and for Barca to progress against Madrid.

"Messi is one of the best players in history, who has scored more goals than anyone and he keeps making history," he said. "Some of the stuff I have read makes me mad. Against Madrid we will not see the Messi of Milan. Barca is the best club in the world, with the best players. They must play quickly against Madrid, who are strong in midfield."

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