Perhaps it’s just a coincidence, but Barcelona’s difficult Champions League season has come at a time when Lionel Messi has been unable to make the starting lineup when his club needed him most.
Obviously, if any team had a guy who scored more than 300 goals including 44 in La Liga and eight in the Champions League this year, it would be difficult not to rely on him.
And although Messi is only 25 years old and won’t be leaving Barca anytime soon, manager Tito Vilanova still has a job at hand of not only helping his team recover from two embarrassing loses against an outright superior Bayern Munich but also of building a squad capable of delivering without Messi.
Hopeful fans were no doubt looking forward to Messi starting the second-leg semifinal against Bayern Munich, as he has proved capable of delivering miracles for his side time and time again. However, Vilanova decided to rest him, not risking the hamstring injury he suffered last month. This only proved that without Messi, Barca are not the same.
In a tough quarterfinal fixture against Paris Saint-Germain, his absence in the second half of the first leg opened the gates for a possible upset. Only Messi’s introduction in the second half of the second leg inspired his team to make it through to the next round.
He was clearly not at his best in the first leg against Bayern Munich, and perhaps Barca were risking something by even having him on the pitch. Without his usual unparalleled pace, penetration and finishing skills, Barcelona simply could not match Bayern. For the sake of his injury, it was necessary to have him sit on the bench in the second leg, but his absence left the team without hope.
In recent years, Barca have established themselves as one of the best teams ever assembled, as long as Messi has been consistently in the starting lineup. Although we can all hope that he remains able to perform with the same regularity he has already demonstrated, the realities are that injury is an ever-present part of the game and over-reliance on a single player in a team sport is always dangerous.