As Barcelona prepare to face Alaves on Saturday evening, after putting in a tremendous performance against Juventus in the Champions League, there’s one stat that really sticks out.
So far in the 2020/21 season, both domestically and in Europe, Lionel Messi has yet to score from open play.Five games in the Spanish top flight and two group games in the premier European competition.
That’s a drought almost unheard of in Messi’s career, certainly over the last few years at any rate.
He wasn’t a prolific scorer by any means when he was first drafted into the senior team at the club, but once he got going there was no stopping him.
However, a change of formation from Ronald Koeman has seen the Argentinian have to drop much deeper than he would normally to pick up the ball.
That, and the fact that each opponent is packing out their defence in the areas they know Messi intends to run into has meant that there’s been hardly any space for him to either get a shot away, or the ball out to the left – ostensibly to Jordi Alba – which has proved to be such a successful connection in the past.
At present, Messi doesn’t really seem too bothered that he’s not adding his name to the score sheet other than from the penalty spot.
Defeats at Getafe and against Real Madrid aside, the Catalans have looked good this season, despite all of the off-field shenanigans.
With Josep Maria Bartomeu having resigned now, along with all of his board, that may lift the gloom that was enveloping the Camp Nou.
With the shackles off, Barca should feel a little more freedom to play as they would like, albeit under the watchful eye of Ronald Koeman.
The Dutchman stepped out of the frying pan of the Dutch national team and right into the fire at his former club, but to date, aside from the decision not to bring on substitutes against Los Blancos until it was far too late, he has steered the blaugrana ship well enough.
Certainly, the players are responding to his methods, and one can only hope that as we go deeper into the season, the rough edges can be polished and Barca can be challenging for honours again at the business end of the season.
Given the calamitous way in which the last campaign ended, to even believe that would even be possible might’ve been considered fanciful.
As the saying goes, when you’re at rock bottom, the only way is up. All Barca need now is for Messi to find his shooting boots again.