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Messi lost the ball 27 times against Alavés: Should Barça worry?

Domagoj Kostanjšak



Photo via Imago

2020 has been very rough on most of us, what with a deadly pandemic raging on and life suddenly becoming that much more difficult. But even if you put all of that aside and focus solely on Barcelona, things have been nothing short of a rollercoaster ride with a few ups and far too many downs.

2020 will also be remembered as the year when the Blaugrana almost lost one of the most influential players in the history of the club. Lionel Messi is Barcelona and Barcelona are Lionel Messi. We know it, they know it and the world knows it as well.

However, with 33 years already on his back and after a series of unfortunate events he couldn’t prevent or alter, the Argentine was ready to call it quits. And can we blame him? Season after season, it was Messi who kept the club afloat, it was Messi who won those trophies and it was Messi who kept the illusion of grandeur alive. But at the end of the day, it was nothing more than that – an illusion.

Of course, he was forced to stay, that much we can say for sure. After all, he admitted his desire to leave publicly, stating the time has come for a change for both parties. Barcelona have to evolve somehow and unfortunately, they will have to do it without him. For now, though, he’s here but many fear he’s simply not the same.

He’s scored only three goals in the ongoing campaign, all three from the penalty spot, and his game as a whole seems to be suffering. The latest proof was in the fact that he lost the ball 27 times against Deportivo Alavés as Barcelona only managed a one-all draw.

The Messi of old wouldn’t allow that to happen, would he? But context, as ever, is crucial here. Messi loses a lot of balls simply because he’s constantly trying things, experimenting, risking it all to find that perfect pass, a dribble that will create something out of nothing.

After all, he’s one of the few creative sparks Barcelona have and in 2020 more so than ever, Leo has taken the role of the distributor and the conductor. Interestingly, the stats backs this theory up.

With the exception of goals scored, which have decreased from 0.86 per game to 0.56 per game, the 2020 Messi is outperforming his 2019 self in almost every category imaginable.

0.5 assists per game to 0.3, 5.5 successful dribbles per game to 4.8, 52 accurate passes to 41, 2.8 key passes to 2.3, 0.6 tackles to 0.4 and three times fouled per game to two times per game in 2019. He’s not scoring so everyone’s conclusion is that he’s immediately having a bad season when in fact, it’s the exact opposite.

A player of his calibre doesn’t just lose all of his ability. But the whole premise of a rebuild was to alleviate some of the responsibilities he has and make Barcelona a team again. This means the focus will be on teamwork and not on Messi saving them week in, week out. It also means others will have to score some goals themselves while Leo dictates everything from the back.

It may seem like his influence is diminishing but in reality, he’s the mastermind behind it all – dictating, coordinating, and making it tick.

Because that’s what leaders do.

Stats: Opta

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.



The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book




Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Guest Contributor: Darren Looney

“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.

In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.  

FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades. 

The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have. 

Barcelona’s current state

The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.

Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma. 

Gerard Pique has been on the end of this drama over and over. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence. 

Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.     

When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”. 

This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.

Lenglet deserves support right now, something he is not getting. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.  

Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears. 

The Jurgen Klopp effect

When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.

In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.

Klopp flipped Liverpool around onto its head. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.

Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.

Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes

It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.

Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.  

Barcelona need to become one unit to strive forwards as a team. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit. 

The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.

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