Lionel Messi hailed under-fire Barcelona as back to their best as they saw off Manchester City to reach the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League and keep alive their hopes of a treble. Critics had rounded on Barça and their coach Gerardo Martino after the reigning champions suffered three defeats in six Spanish La Liga matches, with the latest - a shock 1-0 reverse at lowly Real Valladolid on Saturday - seeing them fall four points behind arch rivals Real Madrid in the title race.
That loss came four days before Barça's Champions League last-16 second leg against City and would have given the English side increased hope they might be able to overturn their 2-0 deficit from the home leg. However, there would be no fairytale recovery from City as Barça earned a 2-1 win on the night to progress through to the last eight 4-1 on aggregate.
And Messi, who was on the scoresheet along with Dani Alves - the same scorers as in the first leg, believes his side showed just what they are made of in Wednesday's match.
"We were coming off two very serious setbacks away from home (at Real Sociedad and Valladolid)," Messi said. "But more so for the performances than for the results. Here we've returned to be the Barcelona that we want, that the fans expect."
Messi also rubbished suggestions Barça's La Liga title hopes have been sunk by their recent poor form, pointing out there are still 11 league games to go, including a clash with leaders Madrid, as well as the Copa Del Rey final against their arch rivals.
"I don't know if the criticism was exaggerated or not," he continued. "We're the first to be self-critical and we know we haven't done things well, we know when we've done badly. We lost the opportunity to continue being close to Real Madrid, but the league isn't lost whatsoever. There's a long way to go."
Barça defender Alves echoed those thoughts, saying on his club's official website: "We're very happy to go on to the next round. When things aren't going well it's normal for there to be criticisms. Besides the goal I'm happy with how the team played, we always respond. There's only one path to follow. We had a slip, but we're moving forward."