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Is Messi-less Barcelona really a menacing threat?

A 1-0 defeat on the opening day of the season against Athletic Bilbao has raised questions that Ernesto Valverde didn’t seem equipped to answer.

Forced to miss the first game of the new La Liga season owing to a calf injury, Lionel Messi will be shaking his head in despair after watching his team tumble against Athletic Bilbao. Ernesto Valverde’s men were shocked by a heavenly scissor kick from the 38-year-old striker Aritz Aduriz in the 89th minute. With only a couple of minutes to gasp their breath, the Blaugrana went out of shape and suffered a defeat on the first day of the season after almost 10 years.

Valverde’s unusual midfield selection with Frenkie De Jong, Carles Alena and Sergi Roberto could have been a sign of better times but it fell flat on face. As it turns out, the trio displayed immense moments of individual brilliance but failed to deliver as a full-fledged unit. Ivan Rakitic was brought in the second half to right all the wrongs committed but had no significant impact on the outcome.

Although re-enforcement in the form of De Jong and Antoine Griezmann have been brought in this season but it was Messi who has been making the midfield tick for long now. The Argentine was a recipient of 36 goals in the previous season and led by example. The 32-year-old now holds a bigger role as after the departure of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, Messi has been seen taking positions in midfield, linking up with the midfielders and has been instrumental in finding gaps to feed Luis Suarez.

The mid-size blockbuster has been assisting, scoring, dribbling, creating chances and passing to ease the woes of Barcelona lately and his absence was felt dearly on Friday night. He has been flamboyantly accessible and his link up play on the left-wing with Jordi Alba produced some memorable goals for Barcelona in the last season.

His natural tenacity of nurturing partnerships with individual players and understanding their strengths to help the team has garnered positive results. Valverde realizes that new inclusions in the team might well be inducted into Barcelona’s style of play in time and Messi can surely lead the charge on that front.

An injury to Luis Suarez has only made things worse but with Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele up front, Valverde can expect a few goals in the upcoming encounters.  The opening game in La Liga can be termed as a creative misfire on the account of Valverde but over reliance on Messi to make the system work will not yield long term results.

With Messi’s age catching up quickly, the subliminal forward will be rested more than often to prepare for big matches and in the gist of that, the opponent teams might pounce on the conservative approach which Valverde holds so close to his heart. Going over the established ‘tiki-taka’ system, the current Catalonian manager focusses on more build-up which clearly allow the teams to counter on account of a slight misplaced pass.

The Blaugrana forwards comprising of Dembele and Griezmann look like in desperate need of inspiration despite their reputation of tearing down opponents.  The clinical aspect of finishing was missing in the encounter against Bilbao and hence reminded everyone once again that Messi is an irreplaceable cog in the Barcelona system.

With some of the world’s top talents like Arthur Melo, De Jong, Alena, Dembele at disposal, Valverde needs to ensure that the fate of the team doesn’t entirely rely on one man’s individual brilliance. He will be rooting for Messi to impart his invaluable knowledge to the young guns who are tipped to become the face of the club soon.

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