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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Barcelona's Lionel Messi in a good place privately and professionally ahead of Copa del Rey semi-final

On Thursday night, Argentine aims to lead his team towards sixth consecutive cup final

Lionel Messi has been in excellent form despite having to play deeper on the pitch. Josep Lago / AFP
Lionel Messi has been in excellent form despite having to play deeper on the pitch. Josep Lago / AFP

Lionel Messi is not one to open up with his thoughts off the field, but he offers some interesting insights in a new interview with World Soccer magazine.

Amusingly Messi’s eldest son Thiago, who is already training to be a footballer, sometimes calls his father “Messi, like the fans do!” Messi Sr concedes that having children has meant he can no longer take a siesta, something he misses.

He also misses eating chocolate, but reiterates that he has no plans to be a manager because “I don’t have a feeling for it” and that he has no relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo since they only see each other at awards ceremonies.

Messi thinks that Real Madrid’s dip is temporary and that they will be back fighting for everything and he also claims that the departure of Neymar has helped Barcelona’s defence because it has led to a change in the way they play.

“We lost a great deal of offensive potential but it favoured us in a defensive sense. Currently we are most armed in the middle of the field. We have more balance and that makes us stronger defensively.”

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Messi is in a great place both privately and professionally.

He is not only a driver on his children's school run near his beachside home in the footballer enclave of Castelldefels, just south of Barcelona. But he also takes his teammates and neighbours Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho to Camp Nou for matches.

The three South Americans from neighbouring countries get on very well, as do their partners. It all bodes very well for Barca. A player of Neymar’s quality would be missed by any team, but deficiencies in Barca’s side this season are harder to detect. Besides, Coutinho has made a good start at his new club.

Messi is the leading scorer in Spain this season, despite playing in a slightly deeper role under new manager Ernesto Valverde, a man he has a good understanding with. Barca are unbeaten in a record-equalling 21 league games and clear favourites to win the Primera Liga, as well as being among the favourites to win the Uefa Champions League.

Despite signing Coutinho in January, they have managed to trim their wage bill with the departures of Javier Mascherano, Gerard Deulofeu, Rafinha and Arda Turan. With salaries approaching 90 per cent of their turnover, they had to. They also want to sign Antoine Griezmann to further strengthen their attack.

After overcoming Espanyol and a first-leg defeat in the quarter-finals, Barca are also in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey again, and Messi on Thursday night aims to lead his team towards a sixth consecutive cup final. No current team in any major league have reached six consecutive cup finals.

Valencia stand in the Catalans' way over two legs, the side so effectively managed by Marcelino this season who held Barca to a rare draw in December.

Valencia were unbeaten in the league until that game, their 13th of the campaign. Marcelino made them so, crafting a young, disciplined side with tightly organised lines and effective wingers. They have already eliminated Real Zaragoza, Las Palmas and last season’s finalists and finalists Alaves on penalties last week.

Reaching a semi-final with Barca is an achievement, and a Copa del Rey triumph would be significant for Los Che who are coming out of a three-season slump. But their own form has dipped since that draw against Barcelona.

Valencia are still fourth in the Primera Liga, but they were taken apart 4-1 at Mestalla by Real Madrid on Saturday. Finishing fourth for a team that have lost five of their last eight league games since that Barca draw in December will be a considerable achievement.

On Thursday night, they will focus on the cup. Just do not mention the last time Valencia and Barcelona met in a Copa del Rey semi-final two years ago. Barca won the home leg 7-0 against Gary Neville’s side, with Messi scored a hat-trick.