Not since 2007 will a Clasico have been played without one of either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo involved. Of course, Ronaldo is now a Juventus player having left Real Madrid in a blockbuster transfer during the summer, but a fractured arm suffered by Messi in last week’s win over Sevilla means he too will be missing at Camp Nou this Sunday.
Given the wealth of talent boasted by Barcelona, this shouldn’t be much of an issue, especially with Real Madrid in such poor shape at the moment, with manager Julen Lopetegui widely viewed a dead man walking, a man awaiting his fate. But the Catalans are more dependent on Messi than they should be.
It’s natural that Messi should be the player around which Barca revolve, given his undeniable quality, but there have been times over Ernesto Valverde’s tenure in charge of the club at which they have looked lost whenever the Argentinean isn’t on the pitch. They rely on Messi more than is healthy.
And so Valverde must come up with a game plan that accounts for the absence of Messi this weekend. This is where Philippe Coutinho comes in. The former Liverpool playmaker can be moved forward to play as part of Barcelona’s attacking line, possessing the ability to also drop deep to drive the ball forward. He is the one Barca must look to against Real Madrid.
Some will argue that it is Luis Suarez will take on the attacking burden with Messi missing, and there is some credence to that argument. The Uruguayan stepped up his game in both the second half of the match against Sevilla and against Inter Milan in the Champions League during the week. Following a sluggish start to the season, Suarez finally looks to be finding something resembling his best form.
But it is Coutinho who can become the dynamo Barcelona need both in midfield and in the final third. The Brazilian has looked the part since making the move from Liverpool in January and now he has the chance to prove that a team as talented can, and should, revolve around him. It could ease some minds stressed at the thought of Barcelona in a post-Messi age.
Barcelona’s early season form has been patchy. The heat on Valverde would be much more intense were it not for the struggles being suffered by Lopetegui in the Spanish capital, with Real Madrid claiming just one win from their last six games heading into this weekend’s fixture.
The injury to Messi presents Barca with a test they probably could have done without at this time. But Valverde has the players to get around the problem and nobody in his squad offers the solution that Coutinho does. This Sunday’s Clasico must see the Brazilian step up to fill the void of his missing teammate.
How well do you know European Football? Want to challenge the best Spanish Fantasy Managers? Play www.liga-fantasy.com now.