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Barcelona still rely on one little man named Lionel Messi

Domagoj Kostanjšak

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Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona are still struggling immensely without Lionel Messi. In other news, water is wet and the sky is (some sort of) blue. Of course, against Juventus, the little Argentine was on the pitch and they still managed to lose 0-3 at the empty Camp Nou.

And yes, Messi was there when they lost 1-4 against Rome, 0-4 against Liverpool and also 2-8 against Bayern Munich. But if there was a single constant throughout all of those debacles, the good and the bad, the occasional victories and the constant defeats, the tears and the joy then that’s Messi being essentially the only light in a never-ending pitch of black that’s surrounding the Catalans.

Of course, this will go against the narrative of the general media who will tell you Messi is the one who failed. Failed at captaincy, failed at leading the lines and failed at winning it all by himself. Because that’s what he’s supposed to do and ironically, that’s what he’s been doing for so many years now – winning all by himself.

It doesn’t take long to realise nor does it take a keen tactical eye to conclude that this Barcelona team is a shadow of its former self. Ronald Koeman may have made some changes to the structure, the personnel and initially, to the mentality of the squad, but the core principles are still a mess.

The Azulgranas don’t have a clear defensive strategy since they lack compactness and match sharpness. Their press has somewhat improved but is still highly exploitable, and to a large extent, ineffective. However, as bad as that might seem, there are still bigger issues in attack.

Barcelona were always a team that wouldn’t exactly irritate you to submission with their stubborn defence but would rather outgun you in an open game of football. If you, on the other hand, decided to turtle up, the Catalans would carve you open like a Christmas turkey. Nowadays, however, there is nothing in their arsenal but one single man and it has been that way for years now.

Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images

The famous term ‘Messidependencia‘ may not need that much explaining but it is worrying that even though the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Frenkie de Jong are in the team, without Messi, Barcelona don’t have anything to show for.

After all, we’ve seen the very same thing against Juventus at the Camp Nou. Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo will take the plaudits for his two penalty kick goals but it was Messi who ran the show on the night. Not only that but he was the only proactive player on the pitch apart from Riqui Puig in the latter stages of the game.

It was Messi who took all of Barcelona’s shots on target, it was him who tried to create something out of nothing and if Barcelona were to somehow mount a comeback, it would most certainly be through him and him alone. Alas, it was not to be and once again, he will be the first one to feel the wrath of the media and the fanbase.

Because, after all, he’s supposed to win it all by himself, right? Wrong. Football is a team game and as long as it’s only one man pulling all the weight, Barcelona will get nowhere. Every attack they mount goes through him and of course, that’s not surprising given his quality and ability but it also gets repetitive and, more worryingly, predictable.

Messi is superhuman but it’s much easier to defend against one man than it is to defend against 10 of them. Against Juventus, Barcelona kept recycling possession until Messi decided to get creative. That was when the ball was moving faster and that was when it was reaching dangerous areas.

Whenever they were in a shooting position and have actually tried threatening Gigi Buffon between the posts, it was the little Argentine’s doing. And sure, on a different night, at least one of those shots would’ve rattled the inside of the net and in that case, we’d likely be having a much different conversation right now.

But it didn’t and maybe it’s a good thing after all. Of course, this wasn’t the game that suddenly revealed all of Barcelona’s flaws. They were clear for everyone to see since the start of the 2020/21 campaign (and much earlier than that!) but Messi peppering over the cracks would just make things worse. It would prolong the inevitable and potentially hide a problem that is becoming too big to handle for anyone, let alone Koeman who, try as he might, is simply not up to the task.

At the end of the day, the defeat against Juventus served the purpose of telling us more of what we already know – Barcelona are still relying on Messi to solve all of their problems and whenever he can’t, they are doomed.

We keep hearing about all those promising sporting projects with the new president from January onward but the first order of business should be to create a functional team that can play with Messi rather than playing for him.

Barcelona can’t succeed with him and 10 other logs of wood, as much as we’d love to believe it. It’s time they realised that and got to work.

The clock is ticking.

I’ve been a Barcelona fan for more than half of my life. What started as blind love is slowly turning into professional writing. Now, I get to write about Barca, analyse them, and voice my opinions on them across platforms. I’m happy to be a part of this big project.

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Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time

Domagoj Kostanjšak

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Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner. In early March, the club will finally get their long-awaited new president following the tyranny that was Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure. And perhaps ‘tyranny’ may be a bit too harsh of a verdict, but how else would you call years of systematically destroying the club, consciously or subconsciously, plunging it deeper and deeper into the abyss? On second thoughts, ‘tyranny‘ will just have to do.

But all of that is firmly behind us now. In just weeks’ time, the Catalan giant will rise once more, reborn from the ashes of its fallen self to conquer the world anew. But things in football are never really that easy, are they? Everyone knows you can’t win all the time.

Even the greatest of teams such as Pep Guardiola’s very own Barcelona had their rise, peak and subsequent downfall. And there are not many clubs out there who have faced the harsh reality of building new dynasties from scratch as much as Barcelona have.

Pep Guardiola’s team reached heights unheard of in club football. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

So if history is any indication at all, change takes time and the upcoming presidential tenure at the club will be no different. But let’s get one thing clear right away – this is not meant to bash any of the three candidates nor promote them either. All three of Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa have their own visions of the direction in which to take their beloved club.

However, to think everything will suddenly and immediately change upon their appointment would be foolish. No, in March, we’re not getting the rebirth; we’re only getting the very beginning of one. With a new president sitting in that chair and appointing a new board, Barcelona will once again lay the groundwork for future success.

The immediate appointment of the new upper hierarchy might boost the morale, of course. And that in itself could then translate to a boost on the pitch as well. But a new president can only do as much in such a short amount of time. The real battles are always fought on the pitches and there, Barcelona are still looking like a broken team.

This too, of course, can be fixed over time. With the appropriate staff behind the scenes, a much better scouting department, physios, psychologists and a step-by-step tactical and squad overhaul, we can start hoping for result. But those are all long-term goals that require patience both from us the fans and the team itself.

Baby steps. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, years of failure in the market, chasing ghosts of our pasts and blind picks, have resulted in a financially distorted club. Where once was wealth and prosperity now we only have crumbs of former glory. Yes, Barcelona are still a powerful outfit that can and should be aiming to attract only the very best.

But we also have to remember that each of the three candidates is seemingly putting a lot of emphasis on going back to the roots. ‘The roots‘ here mean La Masia, the academy and the youth. But just as is the case with any sporting project, especially the ones founded on the strength coming from within, this takes time to develop. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Nor was La Masia or Barcelona’s legacy, for that matter.

The Azulgranas really do have incredible talent in their youth ranks and this is definitely a pool of players that should be utilised in the future. We shouldn’t, however, expect to find the new Golden Generation right around the corner.

We have been fooled into thinking the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are the standard and the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep telling ourselves otherwise, they are very much the exception to the rule; the standout and likely a one-in-a-million crop of players that flourished under a brilliant manager.

The peak, not the standard. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

So many things had to be in the right place for them to make it, and somehow, the stars had aligned back then to ensure their development into footballing giants. It would be foolish to expect the same thing to happen again, or rather, to happen that quickly.

But with the right foundations, the right personnel, trust and hope, why shouldn’t we believe in it happening once more? After all, we have the secret recipe for success but are too afraid to use it. Why? Well, the times have changed since Barcelona last ruled the world.

Back in 2009, success was not guaranteed nor was is so expected and the fans were nowhere near as spoilt as they are now. Back then, the coach actually had the time to build a squad, groom them and mould them in his image. That’s what Pep did and miraculously enough, it didn’t take him years, not even months, to start making something truly incredible.

And in so many ways, 2021 mirrors that exact same situation. Before Pep’s time, Frank Rijkaard had been struggling for a while and his team, despite having some big names, was in a need of an overhaul. In that regard, Barcelona were entering their transitional period, the same one they are experiencing now.

Rijkaard bowed out from the stage having finished third in La Liga and having exited both Copa del Rey and the Champions League in the semi-finals. It was a valiant effort for a broken team but ultimately, he finished his tenure with a trophyless season. But in so many ways, that 2007/08 campaign was a start of a new story; one that promoted trust in the youth, power from within and confidence in the beginning of a rise to glory.

So what can we learn from that? We must accept that change is sometimes necessary but that it can cost a lot. In football, results and trophies matter, that’s in the nature of the sport. But sometimes you have to take a step back before you jump two steps forward. 2020 wasn’t easy and 2021 is looking equally as exhausting and challenging. But it’s also necessary.

Already, in a season that may seem full of pain, anger and disappointment, we’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come. Players like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araújo rising to the occasion to guide us to a better future. That future may also be without Lionel Messi, the one player who embodies this club the most.

The future, even without Leo, does look bright. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

But we should also remember Pep had to lose, or rather let go of Ronaldinho to kickstart his great overhaul. Both players were and still are icons of the club but a new era requires new heroes and new leaders. So even if Messi leaves this coming summer, the world won’t suddenly stop, nor should Barcelona’s strive for greatness.

In March, a new president will get elected and the foundation for a better future will finally be set. It will take time and it won’t suddenly solve all of our problems.

But it will give us a push that we oh so need. Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner.

Don’t give up hope in the moment of our greatest triumph.

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