The 19/20 season could be remembered as the last of Lionel Messi at Barcelona, unless the complications of a departure keep increasing. But how did the little genius perform after all?
This is the twenty-first and last episode of a series in which we review the performances of the different Barça first team players, as well as discuss their futures for the next campaign. You can check the series here.
As strange as it may sound, it is no surprise that the 19/20 season wiped out everything good from FC Barcelona, let alone perhaps taking Lionel Andrés Messi away. When push comes to shove, Barcelona’s number ten manages to evolve and continue to push the limits breaking a couple of records: which happened this season as well.
On average, the Argentine star, per season scores 45 goals at the minimum and during this cursed campaign, Barcelona’s talisman scored 31 goals and registered 25 assists. This gives hype to the fact that Messi’s skills cannot be explained; they can only be felt and witnessed without trying to apprehend the how-he-does-it fact. However, this time, his good wasn’t enough for him to keep going and stay. Let’s see where it all went wrong.
La Liga Santander
Starting from La Liga, without any doubt, Messi has always been ridiculously good and outstanding. This statement is supported by the fact that, even if this term isn’t a good memory, Lionel Exceptional Messi managed to break a new record by assisting 21 times.
At the same time, since the 2008/09 season, Lionel Messi didn’t score as few goals as in the 19/20. But in spite of this, the master of the game with his consistency and passion managed to surpass the assisting record of his former teammate Xavi Hernández. Alongside having the most assists in a single La Liga season, the captain of Barcelona sealed the Pichichi trophy for the seventh time, not to forget, during his worst goalscoring year in a decade.
“We didn’t expect to finish in this way, but it sums up the year for us. We are a weak team who can be beaten with enough intensity and enthusiasm. We have lost a lot of points which we shouldn’t have done [and] been very inconsistent. We need to be self-critical, starting with the players but also across the entire club. We are Barcelona, and we are obliged to win every game”Lionel Messi, after Barcelona lost by 1–2 against Osasuna in La Liga matchday 37, handing Real Madrid the title
Messi’s impeccable performance isn’t debatable. The way he has led Barça throughout the years is arguably the best any team could get. Nonetheless, the club continued to over-rely on him and teammates didn’t show enough commitment. Naturally, being a human, he was tired of carrying the team alone in every game. This season was an epitome of such behavior, with probably perhaps the most toothless side of the Catalans.
The defeat against Osasuna in the penultimate La Liga clash disappointed many. When the rest of the team is crunched and the best of all time is expected to play at multiple positions to score goals, defeats like these are meant to happen. Messi wasn’t to be blamed here, still; the disappointed fans were found scapegoating the legend for losing the title which in reality was a collective failure.
Copa del Rey
Messi, with his prolific goalscoring, gave hope to the culés when he scored twice in a match against Leganés and progressed into the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey this season. His unbelievably good goal in the last minute ended the game at 5–0, which made it the captain’s 500th victory for Barcelona.
The number ten’s ability to create goals throughout the game has always been phenomenal and sublime. This time, it was as if the spirits were moving him: he dribbled past every Leganés defender, giving the most enchanting moments to fans.
However, Athletic Club burst the happy bubble of the Catalans when the visitor’s below-par performance at San Mamés made them lose another trophy. Barcelona struggled to turn possession into chances and Messi failed to stop Athletic from thrashing his team’s hope of reaching a 7th successive Copa del Rey final.
This was another loss which once again proved that, when you try to win the game through one man, a major drop in productivity will eventually happen and nothing could save from an embarrassing defeat.
Throughout the 2019/20 season, Barcelona’s lacklustre displays were disheartening, but the Champions League was profoundly a devastating one for the blaugrana star. Having 3 goals and 3 assists throughout the European competition this year, the media of Argentina labelled the defeat against Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals as Lionel Messi’s worst ever.
The humiliating defeat against Bayern would be a tragic ending to Messi’s Barcelona career | Photo by Manu Fernández / Pool / AFP via Getty Images
The duel against Bayern ended on 8–2, leaving Messi painfully frustrated. The man who had won this tournament four times lost with his team conceding no less than 8 goals — what a misery! While it left the club at the end of the line, it was also the turning point for everyone when, after Messi’s demeaning silence, fans started encountering the news of him leaving the club after devoting 20 years wholeheartedly.
What next for Lionel Messi?
Sometimes people miss the younger Messi who used to run with the speed of light, which has been replaced by his incomparable passing lately. His vision and outstanding abilities with the ball is the best combo one has ever seen in the footballing world. He looks at the ball and he knows where he needs to be. One can vouch for his skill of calculating time and acting on it in the spur of the moment.
Having said that, working under two ‘spineless’ managers this season, a lot of time was wasted. This year was enough for him to realise that, if he continues to play with Barcelona, not only his peak years will be ruined, but also his skills and abilities will eventually start getting rusty. Sackings, transfers, appointments have been going on in the club to restructure it, but it seems that the captain has made up his mind to leave the club.
The heart-wrenching news of the burofax 11 days ago confirmed that the Argentine has given up, which was proven from his absence during the medical tests and training sessions since Sunday. Recently, his father and agent Jorge Messi met the club’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu, but apparently, the stalemate continues.
During the 19/20 season, Lionel Messi was often too alone | Photo by Eric Alonso via Getty Images
While Messi doesn’t consider himself a Barcelona player anymore, whispers of him joining Manchester City to meet with Pep Guardiola once again are in the air. None of this has been confirmed officially, since there are many legal complications involved, but uncertainty, fear and a certain kind of despondency are there among the loyalists of the Argentine.
Lionel Andrés Messi is a born leader; he didn’t only lead by example but also motivated the experienced players, mentored the new blood and also helped organise the club in every aspect. He was not merely there to became a voice for his colleagues but also took stand against the odds. He is consistent, he is calm: he is the brightest star of the sky on earth.
Arguably, Messi doesn’t deserve to be at a place where this season and a joyless team has put him. He doesn’t deserve to be facing this catastrophe because of Barcelona’s economic crisis and managerial downfall. Hence, if his peak years needs to be saved by him leaving the club, then let it be as it may; for all it takes, for as much it hurts: Messi deserves the best.
A 19/20 season review of the new faces: Pedri
In September 2019, Barcelona paid 5 million euros to secure the services of Pedri, who would have a standout debut 19/20 season with Las Palmas at 17. In this article, we analyse the attributes and main statistics of the young and extremely promising attacking midfielder.
This is the first episode of a series of articles that dive deep into a season review of the incoming new faces at Barcelona. You can check the 19/20 season reviews here.
As Ronald Koeman‘s new Barcelona is already taking shape, the youngest member to be joining the first team is Pedro González López, affectionately known as Pedri.
The 17-year-old from the Canary Islands has been a member of UD Las Palmas through and through, right from the youth team set-up to his professional debut in 2019 with the first team. Playing primarily as an attacking mid or left winger, Pedri showcased his attacking repertoire early enough to become an important member of the Las Palmas senior team and went on to play 2982 minutes for them.
His skillset didn’t go unnoticed at the bigger clubs, and soon enough, he was snatched up by Barcelona. So, what does the young midfielder bring to the table?
Pedri was, admittedly, not the biggest goal threat in his first senior season, but given his age, that’s not an issue at all. He scored 4 goals and gave 5 assists.
Watching his shot videos and looking at his shot-map, one can conclude that he does need to work a bit on the judicious choice of positions from where to take shots. For example, there were a bunch of shots from the right with his right foot – shooting from such acute angles is quite unnatural for someone who is not a natural goalscorer. There are also far too many shots from outside the box, most of which, as the videos suggest, are hopeful punts than accurate attempts.
Given below are a variety of his attacking stats – both the raw value and the percentile (mentioned inside parentheses) when compared to other wingers or attacking midfielders who played at least 1000 minutes in the Segunda División of Spain last season.
Data by Wyscout
While most numbers appear to be modest, do keep in mind that this was a 16-year-old playing his first professional season. And his assists, expected assists (xA) and dribbling percentiles are particularly encouraging. It shows he is not afraid to take risks, and we are going to get more glimpses of that further into the article.
But before we proceed, let’s take a look at an animation of the only goal he scored from outside the box:
It was a well-struck fist-time half-volley into the left bottom corner, giving Las Palmas a 1–0 home win against Sporting de Gijón in September 2019. It also marked Pedri’s fist goal as a professional.
A big issue that plagued Barcelona all season was an uncoordinated and lackadaisical defensive effort put in by the team in general. Very little defensive activity by Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi led to Barcelona effectively defending with nine men. A lot of old men in the midfield in the form of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Arturo Vidal also meant that the necessary speed to catch up with fast breaks was lacking as well.
All these afore-mentioned midfielders are very fine players – some of the top midfielders in their prime – but have grown old and lost a bit of their zip, which is much needed in the midfield right now. Meanwhile, Frenkie de Jong is very athletic, and Riqui Puig is deceptively fast, and both of them put in decent defensive numbers. And Pedri should complement them well were these three to take the field in a game together.
Pedri put in a good amount of defensive work for Las Palmas. Browsing through his videos, one can immediately conclude that Pedri is deceptively fast as well and good at reading runs, and he times and angles his own runs to cut the opponents off in their tracks and win back the ball.
Shown below are a variety of his defensive stats. Except for aerial duels – understandable as he is only 177 cms tall –, he ranks very high at every other metric:
Next, let’s take a look at Pedri’s passing characteristics, as shown below.
Pedri was highly involved in the attacking build-ups while maintaining a pretty decent passing accuracy for an attacking midfielder/winger hybrid. He played a lot of forward passes at decent accuracy – something that should bring smiles to the faces of the fans. The teenager is definitely someone who is not shy at taking risks and will mix it up with a decent range of long balls as well. Pedri played around 9 forward passes per 90 minutes, around 8 back passes per 90 minutes and the rest were lateral.
Once again, his video clips make it clear that he attempts to progress the ball and be vertical whenever possible, and the data corroborates that. But here comes the highlight of the article: his keypassing numbers.
What should be clarified right away here is that “dangerous passes” is a nickname I am using for all sorts of progressive and productive passes. This includes passes that lead to shots, assists and pre-assists, progressive passes etc. Let’s have a look at his numbers:
Here we see his greatest asset: his passing abilities to do something productive. And Pedri is outstanding at almost every single category. He ranks very highly in productive passes (which are passes leading to shots + 2nd assists + 3rd assists), passes to the final third and the penalty area, through balls, deep progressions and progressive passes, while also maintaining a reasonably good accuracy at each kind of pass.
This is arguably what attracted Barcelona, and the club will be well served by a passer who is already at this stage of calibre at such an early age. Let’s take a deeper look at his passes that led to shots and goals:
14 of his 19 key passes were into the penalty area – arguably the most dangerous area to take shots from. Only one of the key passes is a corner kick – everything else comes from open play, which is encouraging.
Watching the videos, three of the key passes that end outside the box came from fast breaks – counter-attacks – where Pedri carried the ball upfield from deep and laid it onto the path of his teammate, or found his teammate with accurate long balls from deep. So, even though they were far from the box, they led to extremely dangerous plays by Las Palmas.
Focusing on just the assists, it is easy to see how Pedri combines his speed at ball-carrying with his silky dribbling skills to get past opposition and create crucial amounts of space before finding a teammate with a laser-accurate pass:
And as a special gift to the readers, here is an animation of the assist that happens at the top right corner of the pitch in the viz above. Pedri makes a well-timed run to latch on to his teammate’s pass outside the box, before pulling off an outrageous piece of skill to dribble past his marker with a ‘Berbatov-flick-and-turn’, runs into the box and lays the ball off through two opposition players for his teammate to smash a goal in.
Pedri is an absolute gem, and along with Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, Francisco Trincão and Frenkie de Jong, may well end up forming the core of a youth-based team. As such, Barcelona will do well to hold on to him and nurture him well. After an already promising – unofficial – debut against Nàstic de Tarragona on Saturday, culés can only hope for him to have a great season and future ahead.
Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Samuel Gustafson, writer at Barça Universal, in collating the data and the videos used in the above article