BARCELONA - Barcelona's Lionel Messi has explained how tough it has been to play without fans in the last year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, likening the experience to a training session.
"It's horrible to play without fans, it's a very ugly sensation," Barcelona captain Messi told newspaper Marca on Monday after receiving the 'Pichichi' award for the top scorer in La Liga last season.
"Seeing no-one in the stadium is like a training session and it is very tough to really get going at the start of a game."
The new normal of football in empty stadiums has certainly taken its toll on Messi and Barca.
The Catalans were top of La Liga with 11 games to go when last season was disrupted by the pandemic but they surrendered the title to Real Madrid when play resumed in empty stadiums.
They then suffered a humiliating 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League in an empty Estadio da Luz in Lisbon in August.
This season they have made their worst start in 33 years and are currently fifth in La Liga, way off the pace of leaders Atletico Madrid, while they failed to finish top in their Champions League group for the first time since 2006.
The 33-year-old Messi meanwhile is having his worst individual season since the 2007/08 campaign, scoring only nine goals in all competitions, five of which have been penalties.
🏆 Messi: “It’s an honor for me to surpass Zarra” pic.twitter.com/GqN192lNq5— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) December 21, 2020
The truth is it's very ugly and that's why we are seeing such evenly matched games. It's very difficult to win, regardless of who you are playing against," Messi added.
"The pandemic has caused football to change a lot, and for the worse. You can see it in the matches, and I hope this all ends soon and we can get fans back into the stadiums and return to normality."
Supporters have been absent from Spanish top-flight games since March but are set to return from April once a large section of the population has received vaccines to protect against the virus.
According to Spanish media, the first game with fans will be last season's postponed Copa del Rey final between Real Sociedad and Athletic Bilbao, due to take place on April 4.