Ranking Barcelona's Top 5 Players of the Month
February was a busy month for Barcelona, with seven matches to fit into their calendar across three competitions. While the domestic scene continues to look largely positive, the Catalan side suffered massive defeat in Europe with the crushing loss at Paris Saint-Germain in the UEFA Champions League.
That single defeat aside, it has been an upward trend for Barca; four successive wins in La Liga has closed the gap at the top to a single point, albeit after playing a game more than Real Madrid, while the team is again on course to defend their Copa del Rey title after reaching the final.
We've referred back to all seven games and assessed the players in each to bring you Barcelona's top five players for February, factoring in opposition quality and individual consistency among other facets.
The matches included are:
2-1 vs. Atletico Madrid
3-0 vs. Athletic Club
1-1 vs. Atletico Madrid
6-0 vs. Alaves
0-4 vs. PSG
2-1 vs. Leganes
2-1 vs. Atletico Madrid
5. Jasper Cillessen, Luis Suarez and Aleix Vidal
It was a tough call for fifth for a variety of reasons, so we've tied three players in the position.
Aleix Vidal might have been on course to break much higher into the top five after a complete turnabout of his form; from being out of the squad entirely he regained form, impressed Luis Enrique and was regularly featuring at right-back.
He scored against Athletic, surged forward to create another against Alaves and had usurped the out-of-form Sergi Roberto at right-back...but in that latter game suffered a terrible dislocated ankle.
He's out for the season but deserves recognition for his performances in the first half of the month before bad luck struck.
Similarly, Jasper Cillessen only played in the two Copa del Rey fixtures against Atletico but was very good in both. The first leg swung wildly from Barca dominance to rampant Atleti pressure, but the Dutchman held firm and there's more than a little debt to him from his team-mates.
Cillessen is pushing Marc-Andre ter Stegen as hard as he possibly can, and he'll certainly deserve to keep his place for the cup final.
Playing only a couple of games each, though, it's also right to acknowledge Luis Suarez has remained in impressive form in front of goal, scoring four, assisting four and being sent-off once in an eventful six-game spree in February.
The Uruguayan striker remains critical to Barca's ability to penetrate teams, with his work rate undiminished and his selflessness in creating space and chances for others an important aspect of the team, especially with the midfield somewhat less impressive this year. This wasn't Suarez at his very best but that only serves to make his productivity all the more worrisome for defenders in March and beyond.
Slowly, Rafinha is becoming a more integral part of this Barcelona team.
For most of the season—when fit at least—he has shown more consistency and ability to work hard and affect play in the final third than the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Andre Gomes in particular, and his knack of scoring goals is perhaps what's finally forcing manager Luis Enrique's hand to include him more often.
Rafinha isn't the best player in the Barca midfield, but his combination of traits and abilities make him one of the most effective, and he proved that again in February with a string of big contributions across five appearances.
Against Athletic he helped dominate the centre of the park in a way that Barca haven't managed often enough of late, and it's notable that his industry was missing for much of the loss at Paris Saint-Germain, when Barcelona were overrun, robbed of the ball with frequency and didn't have enough aggression in recovering positions centrally.
Successive La Liga starts against Leganes and Atletico followed, and he was excellent in both, notably notching the opening goal against the latter side in a very tight game.
The goal aside, Rafinha's tactical work was impressive in that match, flitting between right-wing and a more withdrawn position in the centre, helping rotate possession and win back the ball higher upfield than has been the case in the 4-3-3 system of late.
The big question now is whether Lucho will continue to put his trust in Rafinha with big games coming up, particularly the second leg of the Champions League. The academy graduate certainly deserves the opportunity to shine on a longer basis.
Six games out of the seven in February saw Neymar go the distance and play the full 90 minutes, and even though he still hasn't hit the goal trail with any kind of regularity, he remains one of Barcelona's most important players.
The match against Atletico most recently was a case in point; while he rarely got into position to take a clear chance on goal, his dribbling and relentless willingness to hold up play, receive the ball in space and attract two or three defenders gave time and space to others elsewhere.
Neymar took a lot of heavy hits, both fouls and legal-though-aggressive challenges, and the attempts to wind him up were as obvious as they were clear back-handed compliments: He's still the one who takes the game to the opposition and still the forward who creates chances with regularity.
Neymar created 11 chances, per WhoScored.com, across the four Liga matches, showcasing his ongoing hard work. He did manage to score one against Alaves, but elsewhere his return of just six in La Liga this season was in evidence with rushed shooting or poor decision-making.
Some have pointed to the front three not being involved in the action against PSG, but there's limited amounts that forwards can offer when the midfield isn't supplying passes and can't retain possession.
Against Atletico there was more demand on Neymar to track back, more requirement to fill gaps down the left flank and more inclination on his part to ensure no additional bad result, and his mentality is continually proven to be just as impressive as his technique.
2. Marc-Andre Ter Stegen
Taking silver spot for February is a man who has been more in the spotlight of late than he or his team-mates would have liked: goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
The German barely put a foot (or a hand) wrong, yet he still conceded six in five games in the month, such has been the disappointingly open style of play and defensive lack of solidity in the team at times.
Indeed, it's telling that both of Barcelona's goalkeepers make our top five this term, and the season could be looking significantly less interesting heading into March if both Ter Stegen and Cillessen had not been near top form when needed most.
It was in Europe against PSG that Ter Stegen was most exposed and beaten the most times, but against Atletico and Leganes in league action he was nothing short of scintillating.
Leganes at home, immediately following the debacle in Paris, was a must-win game for Barca and the only reason they did take three points was their goalkeeper's awareness, reactions and bravery, making save after save from defensive errors, counter-attacks and a lack of organisation in front of him.
The goal eventually scored by the away side was probably a disappointment to Ter Stegen after what he had managed earlier, but there's no question he set the platform for the late win.
Cillessen might be playing well, but Ter Stegen is keeping his place by performing even better.
1. Lionel Messi
There are many ways to measure greatness, but consistency and coming up with important individual moments when they matter most to a club is a pretty good marker.
Lionel Messi takes top spot for February's form thanks to his continued lethal run in front of goal, his all-round attacking game which keeps his team on the front foot and more than one moment to rescue his side.
True, like Neymar, there was little positive about his game in Europe and he (and the rest of the team) has been criticised for that, but again: A lack of midfield control makes it far more difficult for forwards to have an impact. Even so, losing possession for one of the goals must be particularly difficult for Messi to take.
Elsewhere, though, he has been astonishing: six goals in the other six games, including both to beat Leganes, a last-minute penalty winner there, the winner against Atletico Madrid most recently and the winner in the first leg of the Copa del Rey game at the beginning of the month.
Messi continues to be unstoppable in front of goal, with 16 in his last 18. It's not in threes and fours—it's almost one every game, with a brace here and there. That's of more value to the team when he's also still creating, performing well in open play and others around him are contributing to the goal tally.
The No. 10 is No. 1 for February, and few would back against him continuing the trend to the end of the season.