Imagining a Real Madrid Team with Barcelona's Lionel Messi in Attack

Paul Wilkes@@paulwilkesfootyFeatured ColumnistApril 14, 2014

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 05:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona looks on  during warm up prior to the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Betis Balompie at Camp Nou on April 5, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

"Figo provoked the fans," complained Barcelona manager Louis van Gaal, via Sid Lowe of The Guardian. "He walked over to the corner really slowly, picked up the bottle slowly, went back to the corner...and all this consciously and deliberately, without the referee doing anything to stop it."

The Dutchman was talking in 2002 about the incident in which Barcelona fans threw a pig's head at Luis Figo. The winger had surprisingly made the move from the Catalans to Real Madrid, and no one was going to let him forget it.

At that time, Barcelona weren't as dominant as they are now, but imagine if Lionel Messi was to tread a similar path. It's extremely unlikely that it would happen: Madrid don't have the financial advantage they once held over their rivals.

Figo hadn't been schooled at La Masia like Messi, and there were extenuating circumstances as to why the transfer happened in the first place. If Messi was to move to the Bernabeu, it would be a whole new level; perhaps a full pig would end up at his feet.

It would, though, be a pleasure to see the forward players at Real Madrid combining with the little Argentine. That's if you're a neutral, of course, as the supporters of both clubs are sure to be unsatisfied with the suggestion.

In order for it to work successfully on the pitch, it would require some creative man management from the coach. All top players have an ego to some extent, and the two best players in the world are no different.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are built to get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi. At their respective teams, they are the main men; even the mega-money signings of Gareth Bale and Neymar have done little to address the balance.

All the top sides should seek to get the maximum out of their best player; to do otherwise would be counterproductive. Both Messi and Ronaldo will no doubt feel it's them that should receive the ball more often.

The manager in charge would need to persuade one of them to play a supporting role, though whether he would need to directly admit this is another matter. He could explain to them on an individual match basis or to the team as a whole that it would be in their best interests that one should gain priority.

There are, of course, stylistic and philosophical differences between the two clubs, but it's fair to say that it would be easier for Messi to adapt to Madrid than Ronaldo to Barcelona.

Some would argue that Ronaldo has already shown his versatility by swapping Manchester for the Spanish capital and that Messi has only ever played for one club. But as a whole, it's easier for new signings to integrate into Madrid's ideology than that of Barcelona.

Messi has also played another system with his national side and under various managers at Barcelona that want different instructions to be carried out.

How Messi would fit in tactically would be the most interesting part of the whole concept. As you would expect, there would be a wealth of options available to the manager.

In his now customary false-nine position, he would drop deep into midfield and allow room for Ronaldo and Bale to cut inside from wide areas. When playing against teams that use a high defensive line, such as Rayo Vallecano, there would be space for the two most expensive players to utilise their pace.

When faced with deeper defences, like that of Javier Aguirre's Espanyol, the three would need to combine intricately to create shooting opportunities. The long-range striking ability of Ronaldo and Bale mean that, at present, they often take on a shot rather than look to break the opposition down.

Both Barcelona and Real Madrid primarily favour a 4-3-3, but that doesn't mean they would need to work within these confines. It would be effective in an attacking sense to utilise Messi in the No. 10 role in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Bale and Ronaldo on either side.

Similar to that of Mesut Ozil, Messi could roam toward the wide areas and the two inverted wingers would come inside onto their favoured feet.

Karim Benzema could operate as the striker and as a focal point for the team's attacks.

Teams wouldn't know whether to push up or sit deep through fear of being destroyed. In possession, it would be great, but the downside would be how well the players would track back and make it difficult for the opposition.

Messi isn't as keen to play as a winger, but if Ronaldo was on the left and he was on the right, opponents would be unsure as to stay narrow or mark them man-for-man.

Carlo Ancelotti would be likely to stay within these variations in the setup; the expectancy of carrying such a potent threat would be to outscore the majority of sides.

Other managers may be more ambitious with their changes. For instance, if Manuel Pellegrini returned to the Bernabeu, he may opt for his narrow 4-4-2, either with Ronaldo and Messi as the strikers or with Ronaldo out wide.

Brendan Rodgers and Gerardo Martino's diamond midfield could be advantageous with the two centrally or with either of them at the tip of the midfield shape.

There is even the prospect of playing three at the back in a 3-5-2 as Antonio Conte might do; it all depends on what other players are fielded to balance the very attacking intent of the team.

The two forwards operating in a partnership upfront would be the most fun to see, as their attributes complement each other on paper, and they would be formidable in front of goal.

Mentally is where the team would be let down; no one truly knows how they would cope with sharing the iconic status and if they could work together in close proximity.


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