Lionel Messi Needs Help from Supporting Cast for Barcelona to Win El Clasico

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - OCTOBER 22:  (L-R) Andres Iniesta, Neymar and Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between AC Milan and Barcelona at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on October 22, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

The Barcelona attack, seemingly unstoppable at times early in the new campaign, has hit a brief lull with just one goal over the past two matches. Lionel Messi will be expected to lead the effort to end the skid, but he's going to need help against El Clasico rival Real Madrid.

When Barca have endured issues finding the net in recent years, the usual reaction is to lean even more heavily on Messi. It's logical step considering his status as one of the most talented players in the world, but opponents understand that and can prepare to defend it.

The Blaugrana are only able to get back on track when they return to a possession-based style of play that gets a lot of touches for every member of the attack. Messi often provides the final touch, but it takes a complete team effort to create the scoring opportunity.

Exactly who will make up the supporting cast on Saturday is unclear. Dermot Corrigan of ESPN passed along remarks from manager Gerardo Martino, who admitted some very difficult decisions have to get made when filling out a lineup for a side with so much depth.

"There is a possibility that the three could play the game, or one could be left out, as always," Martino said. "I had the team for the game decided before Milan. Players who have that level, it is not usual, they would not be left out of any other team. But this is Barca, so if Iniesta plays, Cesc is out, or if Xavi plays, Iniesta is out, or the three play and you leave out a wide attacker.

"They are all good. So you have to leave a good player out. I would like them to change the rules so we could put in one more. But without that you need to leave one out. It can be closer to unfair than to being fair."

Having so many stars is rarely a negative. But when they are all healthy and ready to contribute, it creates a very difficult situation for the manager. Forced to keep a key piece on the bench, he risks intense criticism if the wrong choice is made.

That said, Barcelona's starting lineup will be very strong for El Clasico, regardless of the final decisions Martino makes. And the attacking players who get the call to play alongside Messi must find a way to make a major impact.

Whether it's Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas or Xavi in the midfield or Neymar and Alexis Sanchez in forward roles, Barca will find a combination capable of making life difficult on the Real Madrid back line. But they must work together to make it happen.

Barcelona are at their best when they dominate possession, rely on sustained build-ups to push forward and target Messi for the finishing touch, rather than asking him to do it all himself.

Real Madrid have their fair share of attacking talent, of course. Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Isco and Gareth Bale, who's still working his way into form, headline a group that arrives at Camp Nou with plans of earning three key points.

A win by the road squad would bring it back level with Barcelona in the La Liga title chase while a loss would drop the Blancos six points behind, a big gap even in the early going.

Expect a wide open contest with plenty of scoring opportunities on both ends. If Barcelona are going to prevail, Messi will need to have one of his trademark performances.

He won't be able to do it unless he gets plenty of help from his supporting cast.