Barcelona are languishing in 12th place in La Liga after their 3-1 defeat to archrivals Real Madrid at the Camp Nou. The defeat leaves them six points away from Real Madrid, who did not bring in any big name signings before the start of the new season on Saturday. After last season’s debacle against Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Barcelona talked about a sea of changes and brought in players but are still reliant on old guards but most importantly, their talisman Lionel Messi has not been in prolific goal-scoring form.
At the beginning of the season, the analysis of the new Barca under Koeman inclined towards the non-dependency on Messi. Now their bigger headache might be how to get the best out of the Argentine.
While Messi has not played badly this season, neither has he scored from open play – no goals from open play in six matches, with only two penalties to his name — and there are suggestions he has not found his place yet in new coach Ronald Koeman’s set up. Playing relatively deep for majority of the match against Real, Messi had to be content with providing playmaking services.
Asked to put on a lot more defensively by Koeman, at 33, Messi just may not have it all to then contribute to the attacking third. Messi himself said that his responsibility lay in creation of chances, as was showcased by Barcelona’s only goal at the Clasico.
“I think less and less about scoring goals. I’m starting to step back more and more to be the creator rather than the one who finishes,” Messi said earlier this year.
“Obviously I like scoring, and if I have a chance I’ll take it, but every time I go on to the pitch I’m less focused on scoring goals and more focused on the game. I’ve never been obsessed with goals.
“I understand that people will talk about it when I stop scoring, so many, but that’s part of the game, part of growing as a player and adapting to the times, to be the best player both for yourself and for the team.”
Koeman himself has not covered himself in glory either. His 4-2-3-1 relies on Frenkie De Jong and Sergio Busquets working in tandem but the latter’s form means the system does not pay enough dividends when Barca are without the ball. Koeman’s substitutions have left a lot to be desired as he left the midfield exposed in the Clasico.
Koeman himself was expecting better from the playmaker.
“Maybe, at the moment, Messi’s performances could be better,” said Koeman after the game against Getafe where he played Messi on the right flank.
The real problem maybe the number 9 position, with Koeman failing to either integrate Antoine Griezmann in that role or any other role for that matter. The solution has been in playing Messi as false 9 but that also severely limits his side’s ability to create chances if Messi does not drop deep.
With Luis Suarez leaving at the end of last season, Barcelona have not found a target man upfront they can play consistently. Ansu Fati has been doing the damage but mostly coming in from wide positions. Koeman now must find an answer: that is whether to play to Messi’s strength or fall back on his own ideas of systems; the consistency of the latter yet to show signs of real promise.
The Argentine had cited the lack of a winning project at Barcelona for the last couple of years and only did not leave the club as it would result in a legal battle against the club he loves.
Lionel Messi may not have left Barcelona, but did his goals?