Barcelona finds itself in a pickle ahead of its Champions League clash against Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday afternoon. On one hand, Lionel Messi has been named to the squad and is a game-time decision to play.
On the other, if he isn't 100-percent healthy, plays anyway and ends up re-aggravating his hamstring injury or making it worse, Barca's Champions League aspirations will take a major hit.
That's why I believe he must start the game as a substitute if he isn't completely healthy. And seeing as he remains a game-time decision to start, I think it's pretty clear that’s the case.
There are plenty of reasons why Barcelona can get away with keeping Messi on the bench, at least to start the game. For one, the team has unbelievable depth and has options on the attack like Cesc Fabregas, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, Pedro (if he's available to play) and Christian Tello.
It's a spoil of riches, and Fabregas is fresh off a hat trick playing the false nine role against Mallorca this weekend.
It also helps that Barca tied PSG in Paris, 2-2, meaning the Catalans have a serious strategic edge in this match. With two away goals, a win, scoreless draw or 1-1 draw will be enough for Barcelona to advance, while a 2-2 draw would send the game into overtime.
Camp Nou is an all-but-impenetrable fortress for Barca, so it’s hard to imagine the team losing there or giving up three goals in a draw.
Besides, beating PSG isn’t the ultimate goal. Winning a Champions League title is. I know you need to do the former to accomplish the latter, but the point is this—if Messi starts and is lost to a more serious injury, it would seriously jeopardize Barca’s odds moving forward.
I don’t care how deep the team is—when you face a team like Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund or Bayern Munich (assuming the German team advances, which I think it will), you can’t get away with missing the best player in the world.
So keep him on the bench to start if he isn’t fully healthy. Let him be an emergency substitute if the team needs a late goal. Allow a very talented and deep Barca squad to handle this one at home.
Barcelona shouldn’t need Messi to advance. Any team is better with him on the pitch, obviously, but Barcelona is one of the few that can survive his absence, at least for one afternoon.
Playing it safe is the wise choice this time for the Catalans. If PSG makes things interesting, Messi can always come on for the last 30 minutes and work his magic.
It's a pickle, but in this case, playing it safe is the best option.
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