GIRONA — Lionel Messi endured a frustrating night as he was man-marked by on-loan Manchester City defender Pablo Maffeo in Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Girona, but his manager Ernesto Valverde believes the tactic helped the rest of the team.
Messi had scored nine goals in five league games going into Saturday’s first-ever top flight meeting between the two Catalan sides, but he was unable to add to his tally in front of a sell out crowd at Montilivi.
However, Barca still made it six wins from six in La Liga this season courtesy of own goals from Aday Benitez and Gorka Iraizoz, with Luis Suarez’s second strike of the season completing the scoring.
Valverde acknowledged that Girona minimised Messi’s threat, but felt that it meant more space for his side in other areas.
“The man-marking was clear and we had to find the place where to put Messi to move that player [Maffeo] and to get the most out of the situation,” he said in his postgame news conference.
“You have to take advantage of the situation. We tried to get the better of them by playing in the space and taking advantage of Leo’s movement.
“I think Messi was fine. It’s true that when you’re man-marked it can be uncomfortable, but it also has advantages, not for him, but for the team. I think he was relaxed about it all.
“It was a difficult game because it was a derby, because of the atmosphere and the tension, but I think we managed it well. Maybe we struggled to finish the game off, but we’ve got the win.”
Girona manager Pablo Machin took solace in his team’s ability to lessen Messi’s impact on the match, but conceded it was in vain after the match ended in defeat.
“We lost so I’m not happy, but we managed to minimise the input of the best player in the world,” Machin said.
“I don’t think Messi was the decisive player that he can be. You have to try something; we tried to reduce his impact. We have had the yellow card for Maffeo really quickly, but he’s done well.
“I stuck with the decision [to man-mark Messi] so I wouldn’t have any doubts about how it would have gone if we’d minimised the best player in the world and played them nine against nine. I think, in that sense, it went well. Maffeo didn’t let him get too involved in the game.
“We’ll have to analyse it, but I don’t think we lost because of man-marking him. What’s clear is that Messi’s not had as much importance today as in other games.”
Maffeo, 20, spent the game so close to Messi that there was even time for some small talk with the Argentina international.
“Messi asked me a couple of things: if I was on loan from Man City and how old I was,” the full-back told reporters.
“He was very humble. We were talking because I was stuck to him the whole match. There were no bad feelings or anything funny. He’s the best player in the world and if you don’t stick to him, he can score at any moment.
“I had to be with him and to stop him touching the ball. It’s difficult, not just in terms of the football, but psychologically. I am grateful for the confidence the coach showed in me.”