Since Pep Guardiola took over the reins at FC Barcelona, he truly managed to get the best out of the Argentine phenomenon Lionel Messi. Under Frank Rijkaard, La Pulga never had the chance to continually progress as he has done in these past two years.
Although his boundless potential was evident, his constant injury woes prevented him to proper develop his talents. But under the guidance of Guardiola, Messi managed to stay injury-free for a prolonged time and establish himself as (arguably) best player on the planet.
An injury-free Lionel Messi then went on to help guide FC Barcelona to the greatest-ever year in club football. If you considered Ronaldinho during his heyday (between 2003-2006) as indispensable, you might as well invent a new word in the English dictionary for Lione Messi’s place in the Barca line-up. So stunning has his progression been that even though FC Barcelona possesses some of the finest players in world-football, his absence eclipses the world-beaters still available to the Blaugrana.
The defeat of their Boogeyman team Atletico Madrid came at a very high price, the injury of Lionel Messi. Though they have won in his absence, this re-imagination of Rijkaard’s team looks a lot less threatening than usual. In theory FC Barcelona should be able to compensate for Messi’s absence, but in these last couple of games they haven’t looked entirely convincing.
Some critics argue that FC Barcelona are starting to suffer from Messi-dependency, but it must be noted that Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have left the club over the summer. The new signee David Villa obviously suffers from his massive price-tag, and might be too eager to score, to the point that he puts too much pressure on himself.
In Messi’s absence, Pep Guardiola should entrust an attacking trio of Bojan, David Villa and Pedro to deliver goals en masse. But so far he has been experimenting with Andres Iniesta on the left-side of the attack, and installing Seydou Keita in the middle.
Though this bore fruit in the encounter against Atletic Bilbao, it leaves much to be desired. The Malian, though a hard worker, is by no means the most imaginative player in the squad. Xavi and Iniesta are the best midfield pairing in world-football, so why disband it?
San Andres, for all his ability on the left-wing, is wasted in this position, and not a real goal-threat to begin with. Giving Bojan more minutes would be the wiser choice and would retain the creativity of Xavi and Iniesta in the middle of the park. If there’s one area where Bojan is superior to Iniesta, it’s finishing. The boy has goals in him—it’s just for Pep to trust the youngster like he did in the latter stages of last season.
FC Barcelona has the talent and the depth, at least in the attacking third, to compensate for Lionel Messi’s absence. It is up to Pep Guardiola who has to prove that he hasn’t built his reputation solely on La Pulga’s back.