At the time, Lionel Messi’s fractured arm looked to be body blow for Barcelona. It came at the worst possible time for the Catalans, with games against Inter in the Champions League and Real Madrid in La Liga looming. Barca, as a team, are reliant on Messi and it was widely doubted that they would cope without their spiritual leader.
Since then, though, Barcelona have beaten Inter at home, drawing to the Italians at San Siro, thumped Real Madrid in El Clasico, also toppling Rayo Vallecano and Leganes on the road. Messi has been missed, but his absence has been dealt with an in an efficient way that looked beyond Ernesto Valverde’s side just a few weeks ago.
Luis Suarez has stepped up to fill the void left by his Argentinean teammate, scoring six times in his last five appearances, including a hat-trick against Real Madrid. The Uruguayan has become the attacking hub around which Barcelona revolve in the final third, making up for Messi’s absence in more than one way.
Philippe Coutinho is another who has found his best form in recent weeks, driving Barcelona forward from deep in a way that Messi frequently does for the Catalans. Then there’s Ousmane Dembele, who has also come up with some big goals of late, and Arthur, who has slotted into the Barcelona midfield seamlessly since joining from Gremio in the summer transfer window.
It’s only natural that when Messi is on the pitch, Barca look to him. He has the ability to decide a game all on his own. The sport has never seen a player like him before, and so it’s not only natural, but it’s right that Valverde should build his team around such a talent. It’s in Barca’s interests to harness their best player.
Nonetheless, it’s good for the Catalans to have depth, as well as diversity in talent and tactics. This is where Messi’s recent injury, which has kept him sidelined for the past three weeks, could actually benefit Barcelona in the long-term, certainly in the latter stages of the season.
They have proved to themselves that they can cope without their number 10, that they can still pull off big results in big games. In recent years, Barca have tired late on in the season. This is what contributed to their humiliating exit from the Champions League to Roma last term, with Valverde reluctant to rotate his squad.
Messi is now into his thirties, meaning Valverde might have to take greater care with his greatest asset. The Argentinean perhaps can’t play every minute of every game for Barcelona. Not so long ago, this might have been considered an issue, given how reliant the Catalans were on him. Now, the burden may have been eased.
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