Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Lionel Messi’s performances for Barcelona have been defended by club legend Rivaldo, who believes the attacking talisman is being left to do it all himself this season.

Messi endured a tough night when Barca lost 2-0 against bitter rivals Real Madrid in Sunday’s Clasico. The result knocked the Blaugrana off the top spot in La Liga and highlighted the problems facing Messi while Barca are beset by key injuries up front.

Despite Messi’s struggles, which include failing to score away from home in the division since December 1, Rivaldo, who won a pair of La Liga titles at the Camp Nou before joining AC Milan in 2002, told Betfair (h/t Goal’s Chris Burton):

“As usual, Lionel Messi had little space to play in.

“He is Barca’s match winner and if he is well defended their chances of being threatening in attack are severely reduced.

“At the moment, he is the only Barcelona player taking responsibility with the ball, shooting from outside the box and trying to unbalance opposing defenders.

“No one else in the team seems capable of helping him in that department.”

Messi is alone in trying to provide inspiration in the final third while fellow striker Luis Suarez is on the shelf after undergoing knee surgery. The Uruguayan is out until May, and Rivaldo believes Messi is missing having the versatile No. 9 next to him:

“Without Luis Suarez, Barcelona loses a lot because, apart from Messi, they have no other player who can surprise opponents. The Uruguayan works hard, is fearless and puts opposing defences to the sword very often. Barca are missing Suarez and, in his absence, they’re putting all the responsibility on Messi. When they lose, everyone starts asking what happened to Messi. He is always the target of fans’ frustration when things don’t go so well for the team but that’s unfair.”

Rivaldo’s assertion about the importance of Suarez makes sense. The 33-year-old is capable of moments of magic thanks to his quick feet, flair and natural improvisational skills:

Defences can’t zero in on Messi when Suarez is fully fit. The striker’s absence has been compounded since Ousmane Dembele is out for the season with a hamstring problem. The mercurial winger’s pace and eye for a pass would also help ease the burden on Messi.

Without Suarez and Dembele, the onus has increased on Antoine Griezmann to get up to speed. The former Atletico Madrid forward has struggled for consistency since arriving from Atletico Madrid last summer in a deal worth €120 million.

Showing his talent only in sporadic patches, Griezmann has still helped himself to 14 goals and a quartet of assists in all competitions.

While there have been glimpses of improvement from the France international, Griezmann is a different type of player to Messi and Suarez. The latter pair can unlock a defence with individual trickery, but Griezmann thrives thanks to the speed and timing of his runs.

Griezmann is a player reliant on the vision and technique of others to bring out the best in his game. Messi embodies those qualities, but he no longer enjoys the support he used to get from midfield when maestros Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta played for the club.

Artistry no longer defines a Barcelona engine room now underpinned by the industry and brawn of Arturo Vidal and Frenkie de Jong. It means Messi has been lumbered with the dual responsibility of being his team’s primary goalscorer and chief creator.

The workload would be too much for most good players, and It’s even beginning to weigh down arguably the greatest talent of his generation