With a full 40 percent of Barcelona's La Liga goal total last season, it is safe to say the club rely rather heavily on Lionel Messi. The diminutive Argentinian is the focal point of their attacking trio, and his absurd accumulation of goals justifies this approach.
Barcelona have been blessed with a healthy Messi for much of the last few years. Despite an obvious change when he is not on the field, his time on the treatment table has not derailed many title ambitions for the club.
The team showed some vulnerability, however, when he first went down with a hamstring injury this season. In the Champions league, they fell away to Ajax 2-1 before suffering a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Athletic Bilbao in La Liga. Though the two games reopened the post-Messi era discussions, they seemed to be just a minor adjustment for the spell that would follow.
Since those two losses, the team has rattled off five consecutive victories in all competitions, squashing any rumors of turmoil within the squad.
The absence of Messi, though initially painful, has forced other stars to shine and contribute offensively.
The results speak loudly.
In those five wins, Barca have managed 20 goals—good for four per game. That outlay signifies the depth of the squad and the attacking talent surrounding Messi.
Neymar is just one of the young players stepping up to fill the gap. After a hat trick against Celtic in the Champions League, the winger found the net twice against Villarreal in La Liga and once against FC Cartagena in the Spanish Cup.
Messi's spell on the treatment table has allowed the Brazilian to grow in confidence as he acclimates to his new team.
With Messi nearing his return, it is important to understand the dynamic nature of his absence. At just 26 years of age, there is no need to begin worrying about retirement. However, the forward's medical leave indicated something deep about the squad.
The more the offense runs through him, the less ready his companions are to seize the game. The two-game hangover displayed such lackluster offensive creativity—only for five and six goal explosions to follow.
Any team on the planet would be lucky to have the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Neymar and Pedro to call on, but the group are mostly role players in the loaded squad.
The team will get better when Messi is fully fit—there isn't a team in the world who would get worse with him on their side. Yet, his leave reminded supporters that they might need a plan B, especially in the latter stages of the Champions League.
Messi is rightfully the centerpiece of the squad. His goalscoring record is breathtaking and his ability to change a game remains unmatched. But when he isn't producing, or when God forbid he cannot produce, Barcelona must have the confidence to know that they can get the job done whether or not their talisman is on the pitch.
Will they regain dominance upon his return? They will certainly get a boost. Barcelona sit in first place in La Liga but have been unable to extend their lead. The next round of the Champions League pits the Catalans against red-hot Manchester City, but Messi should be back in time for that clash.
As well as the team is playing without him, they will be itching to see their best player slide back into the starting lineup. His health is of the utmost importance to how the squad performs this season, though his teammates are more than capable of contending in his absence.
Barcelona are a strong side, one that will only improve when Messi is fit once again.