Can you imagine Barcelona without Lionel Messi?
Would Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta suddenly cease to be world-class footballers? Would Sergio Busquets forget how to tackle? Would Carles Puyol's creaking legs finally fall off? Perhaps the Catalan era of dominance wouldn't have existed at all without the mini-man from Argentina.
Instead of wondering what might have been if Messi hadn't arrived on Spanish shores looking to kick a ball, let's examine the statistics behind the four-time Ballon d'Or winner's influence at the Camp Nou.
Many suggested Barcelona had La Liga wrapped up by Christmas. While this assumption is by no means wrong, how much of this domestic success is down to Messi's direct input? Removing his goals and assists, let's take a look at how many points Barcelona would have accumulated in La Liga so far:
|Appearance no.||vs.||Score:||Messi Goals||Messi Assists||Points Without Messi Input|
|1||Real Sociedad (H)||5-1||2||0||3|
|7||Real Madrid (H)||2-2||2||0||0|
|10||Celta Vigo (H)||3-1||0||0||3|
|11||Real Mallorca (A)||2-4||2||0||1|
|16||Atletico Madrid (H)||4-1||2||0||3|
|20||Real Sociedad (A)||3-2||1||0||0|
|26||Real Madrid (A)||2-1||1||0||0|
|29||Celta Vigo (A)||2-2||1||1||0|
It's worth noting Messi has also failed to feature in wins against Levante, Real Zaragoza and Mallorca. With this in mind, removing the maestro's direct influence would stand Barcelona on a total of 49 points going into Round 33 of the La Liga season. Tito Vilanova's men would currently occupy seventh place; one point ahead of Real Betis and one behind Malaga.
At the time of writing, Messi has scored 40.40 percent of Barcelona's league goals. Adding his assists into the equation, the 25-year-old has been directly involved in 51.52 percent of Barcelona's successful strikes. This is best compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, who has scored 37.35 percent of Real Madrid's league goals and has been directly involved in 46.99 percent.
Recent Champions League performances also suggest Barcelona struggle without their star player. The Spanish side has notched up 18 goals across 11 matches going into the semifinal second-leg match with Bayern Munich. Messi has personally scored 44.44 percent of these goals with eight in 10 appearances. Throw his two assists into the mix, and the invaluable player has been involved in 55.56 percent of his side's goals.
Perhaps tellingly, Messi's ability to come off the bench and rejuvenate a struggling Barcelona against Paris Saint-Germain outlined just how pivotal he is to the club's search for glory.
In the recent 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich, Messi and his teammates learned exactly how difficult it can be when the opposition works tirelessly to cut down his threat. Although the Argentinian was noticeably sluggish and unfit, Jupp Heynckes drilled his team to halt Messi's momentum.
Is Barcelona's dependence on Messi a myth? The aforementioned statistics make it extremely difficult to disagree. Granted, another momentous talent would step into Messi's boots and most likely make up for some of the lost points featured above, but it's troublesome to overlook the influence of a player who pretty much scores or assists half of Barcelona's goals.
Perhaps, after all, Messi would be able to cut it on a wet and windy Tuesday in Stoke.
All statistics in this article are courtesy of Whoscored.