Lionel Messi hasn’t had a single minute of rest since the return of La Liga, and it seems to be having an impact on his performances as he looks tired and fatigued.
Since the forced hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, all the matches in La Liga have been compressed into a small timeframe. With up to three matches within a week for a single team, rotations and a good training schedule can make a huge difference. The teams which have utilised a lot of substitutions have an advantage as they can rest key players for the next match.
Along with this, squad depth has been really important in this situation. So, it would be natural to expect that sides bench their best players occasionally in order to make sure they remain fit. Surprisingly coach Quique Setién has played Lionel Messi in every match and minute Barcelona have played for since the resumption of La Liga.
“Yes, Messi should rest, but we didn’t have enough of a lead in the game. If the lead was bigger, Messi would have taken some rest”
after the 0–1 win over Real Valladolid on Saturday
Messi has still been in great form, as usual. The Argentine genius has always been crucial for Barcelona. His passing, dribbling and goalscoring are all unbelievably good. Setién has always expressed his admiration for Leo and so it is no surprise to see that Messi is given complete freedom to play to his best in each match. The player, of course, gives his best, as always. But the number of matches played in a relatively short time have had a clear toll on him. Though statistically, Messi’s goals plus assists tally is still among the best in the world, his game has still been affected.
For example, his dribbling has been visibly damaged. Leo’s dribbles were one of the main aspects of Barcelona’s game plan for a long time. Recently, he has showed signs of a slight decline. Nobody expects the explosive pace he had when he was younger, but even the dribbles attempted show a huge difference. In the first three matches since the hiatus, Messi attempted dribbles in double-digits. However, in the last match he attempted only six and eight before that. He did attempt 14 against Atlético de Madrid, though.
Furthermore, Messi’s quick link-up play is always crucial for Barcelona’s progression, and this has seen a decline as well. Earlier, he would play many one-twos with Nélson Semedo and Arturo Vidal on the right-hand side, but recently, that number has decreased as well.
Messi, like several other Barça players, has looked a bit exhausted in recent weeks | Photo by César Manso / AFP via Getty Images
The number 10 is fundamental for Barça. His decline or drop in form in the past few matches isn’t a lot, but it is still visible. Setién must rest Messi if he wants him to perform at his usual best again. Against Atlético de Madrid, Athletic Club or Sevilla, Messi had to play, of course. But taking him off for even half an hour in the previous matches would have made a difference. Not only in terms of wear and tear of muscles and the fact that he is one of the most active players with the ball leading to more exhaustion, but also the concern that playing more matches can cause injury problems.
With Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Samuel Umtiti and Ousmane Dembélé already injured, the last thing Barcelona want is Messi getting injured. Especially with the Champions League coming up soon, the Argentine maestro is Barça’s biggest hope of doing well in the European competition. And so, it is critical that he is not prone to injuries at that time.
Why Erling Braut Håland should be Barcelona’s future number 9
While he would be an unconventional player at the club, why should Barcelona target Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Braut Håland after the departure of Luis Suárez?
A 19-year-old Erling Braut Håland took the footballing world by storm last year when he scored a hat-trick of goals on his Champions League debut and then went on to become only the second teenager to score in each of his first three appearances in the competition.
In the winter transfer window, Håland moved from Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg to German side Borussia Dortmund in hopes of both improving his game and leading Lucien Favre’s side to the Bundesliga title. The Norwegian wonderkid ended the Bundesliga season with 13 goals and 3 assists in 15 games, and Dortmund finished second on the table.
Håland’s 44-goal season put him on the radar of all the top clubs in the world, and while the striker is at the top of his game at Dortmund, his departure to a top European club in the future is inevitable at some point. Following club legend Luis Suárez‘s departure from Barcelona, the Catalan club is surely looking for El Pistolero‘s heir. With Barcelona looking for a top striker for the future, and the Norwegian machine looking at a European giant to move to, Håland might just be the name that reads on Barcelona’s number 9 shirt.
The transfer market is unpredictable, and Håland’s agent being notorious superagent – and supervillain – Mino Raiola, makes things even more complicated. Instead of looking at if Barcelona will seek Håland’s services, this article will look at why Barcelona should seek Håland’s services.
To begin with, let’s talk about Håland’s statistics. In the 2019/20 season, he scored 44 and assisted 10 goals. 10 of the goals were in the Champions League. He scored more goals than expected with his G90, 1.10, being higher than his xG90, 0.75. It has been established that Håland is a goalscoring machine. The Norwegian’s physique is absolutely astounding. At 6 feet 4 inches (1.94 metres), Håland provides quite the aerial threat, something the blaugrana club severely lacks.
In spite of his towering height, Håland is incredibly fast; he reached a top speed of 36 km/h and was 0.3 seconds off from breaking the world record for a 60-metre sprint. Football has evolved in recent years, with training facilities improving and more money being invested in fitness training, players have become more athletic. A striker who will face off against athletic defenders definitely needs to be a physical demon.
When at RB Salzburg, Barcelona rejected to sign Erling Braut Håland because he did not have the suited profile | Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Getty Images
Does Håland have the technical ability of a prime Luis Suárez or of a Samuel Eto’o? No. Would he be heavily involved in the build-up play like some of Barcelona’s preceding number 9s? No. If Håland was to join, he would be the most uncreative player in the squad, and believe it or not, that is exactly what Barcelona needs right now.
The recurring humiliations in the Champions League knockout stages have had one thing in common – apart from the poor defence –: the lack of a runner. Every elite team in Europe has elite runners: PSG have Kylian Mbappé, Liverpool have Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mané, Bayern have Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry.
The Barcelona team, all these years, has been stacked with players who love having the ball at their feet all the time – Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann…The reason Messi’s last few years have been wasted is that he hasn’t been provided with a runner to get at the end of his through balls. This problem cannot occur again.
Barcelona’s future lies with talented playmakers like Francisco Trincão, Pedri, Riqui Puig, etc, and these playmakers need a proficient and clinical striker with good off the ball movement, to score goals for the team. Håland doesn’t only have a good physique, he is also an intelligent footballer. He knows how to time runs, how to hold the defence, and is a lethal shooter of the ball.
Erling Braut Håland would be quite an unorthodox signing for Barcelona. Quite unlike all of his predecessors. But if the club’s transfer policy fails to evolve while the game itself is evolving, then the Catalan club is going to become a relic of the past. A player like Lionel Messi is never going to appear again. Thus, after his departure, if Barcelona want to dominate in Europe like they once did, the team is going to have to function like a system, and Erling Håland is the piece that fits the puzzle the best.
So apart from everything discussed in this article, why should Erling Håland join Barcelona? Well, in his own words: why not?