The question has arisen from time to time since the rise of Lionel Messi to the highest level, thanks to the injuries of the Argentinian. At a time when the legendary playmaker of FC Barcelona has packed up for good, it has never been so crucial: how to do without Lionel Messi at Barça? If the task seems difficult, so much all the game systems for almost fifteen years have applied to put the six-time winner of the Ballon d’Or in the best conditions, it is far from impossible.

We play the 92e minute of the Joan Gamper trophy between FC Barcelona and Juventus, Barça will win by a score of two to zero. But on one of his last offensives placed, Riqui Puig inherits the ball a little by chance at the entrance to the area, turns around and releases a powerful strike skillfully rolled up with his left foot, which leaves Mattia Perin in place. Happy to be able to show what he is capable of to his coach, who had somewhat cooled him last season, the Catalan pocket midfielder jumps for joy in the arms of his new teammate, Emerson Royal. His irresistible kid’s smile eclipses for a short time the dirty news of the day: Lionel Messi is no longer blaugrana. We would have gladly forgiven Barça for taking water against Juve, given the circumstances. However, at the final whistle, Barça posted a record of 68% of possession and nearly 800 passes made. It is therefore quite possible to play, to play well, and to win, without the best player in the world; happy news for the Catalan club, which enters the league on Sunday against Real Sociedad. So do without Messi, yes, but how?

Attack with one genie less, but defend with one more

“This bastard is resting during games. He knows when to participate and when to rest. If he were given a day off, he would tire more watching the match from the stands. ” José Luis Mendilibar did not mince his words regarding Lionel Messi, in February 2020, when he coached Eibar – the so-called favorite Argentine victim in La Liga. But the technician was already raising an important issue around the Messi case. Man only runs to score; he walks the rest of the time. It is certainly devilishly effective, but, it is a fact, the Pulga does not trample to defend. By no longer having to play him, Ronald Koeman therefore has the opportunity to start defending at 11 when Barça loses the ball. This would make it possible to densify this right side at the loss, where the Argentine was often tenured. The fiery Sergiño Dest, on pole to start the season as a right-back, and who already did not hesitate to go into collision even though he left highways behind his back that Gérard Piqué or Oscar Mingueza did not. were not able to fill, should thus be able to enjoy a little more freedom. The last preseason games confirmed, if necessary, Ronald Koeman’s weakness for full-backs carried forward; Jordi Alba has never been more decisive than during last season. The absence of Messi could thus have two positive effects on Barça’s game: a more compact defensive block, and, in the possession phase, greater security. Whether it is in the right lane, if Koeman establishes around Dest a player capable of taking on the sometimes daring initiatives of the young American; or in the axis, because Martin Braithwaite, if he is installed there, Antoine Griezmann, or even Memphis Depay will be more mobile defensively than the one who left to swell the ranks of PSG.

Messi, less than a club

The departure of Messi may call into question the system, but in any case not the philosophy of Barça Koeman way. Like last year, he will align an eleven programmed to confiscate the ball (65.8% possession over last season, biggest total in Liga) and let the powder speak in front (80 goals scored, best result in Liga). We obviously cannot imagine the technician in the name of a film superhero with dubious morals giving carte blanche to a Griezmann, or to some promising youngster, to try to reproduce what he produced during the final exercise. by substituting the unfortunate chosen one for the neo-Parisian genius; even less can we imagine FC Barcelona leaving control of the sphere to the opposing teams. Especially when you list the players still present. Sergio Busquets, whose last Euro suggests that he still has some left in his socks, Frenkie de Jong, who has found for the happiness of all his place in the middle in preparation after having made the interim in the defense to three , Pedri, who recently put the best midfielders on the continent in his pocket, Riqui Puig… Barça has no shortage of players whose karyotype responds to DNA blaugrana. The anticipated loss of Agüero again poses the problem of number 9 that the club has created for itself, but if the “Kun” returns, he will finally provide a solution to the Catalan ills ahead by taking on this role before -centre, which is ultimately the one that is most lacking in FC Barcelona. The Dutch coach had said it before the return to Paris in the Champions League in March: “All teams need to know how to play in multiple systems. But you will see what we like: dominating the match. ” The post-Messi era begins this Sunday, in Catalonia: and Ronald has the cards in hand not to pass for a clown.

By Paul Citron


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