Lionel Messi

It has to be frustrating for manager and players, knowing that sometimes, despite all the talent surrounding and within the football club of Barcelona, all it takes to really get things going is simply the presence of one Lionel Messi on the pitch, even if he’s not 100%, and doesn’t need more than 30-35 minutes on the pitch to make all the problems go away.

While Xavi is somewhat of football wonder with his ability to put the ball at the feet of a teammate, hardly making a mistake all match long, those 92 accurate passes, or 96, depending on whose stats to believe, didn’t really matter. It didn’t make Barcelona more dangerous because PSG did the right thing – allowed Xavi, Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas a lot of space, until a certain point. David Villa and Pedro weren’t felt all match long, not until Lionel Messi came on.

And when Messi comes on, everything changes. Suddenly there’s some sort of panic even in the most organized of defenses, while Barcelona, for the first time during the match, attacked with some sense of purpose. It didn’t take long for that purpose, nine minutes to be exact, to create something. Messi drew two players towards him, while Fabregas never demanded a double team. That put Villa and Pedro in one on one situations, and a scramble in the box gave Pedro the chance to score the goal.

Not everything was so great; most of the things weren’t. Barcelona struggled to dominate the match beyond their usual possession for long stretches, with PSG using the knack of Dani Alves and Jordi Alba, both on weak performances on both ends of the pitch, to join the attack at the same time. This gave Javier Pastore and Lucas Moura plenty of space, and while no one dared leave Zlatan Ibrahimovic alone, his presence caused plenty of panic around Gerard Pique (awful, awful, awful) and Adriano, once again playing out of position.

If there was ever a flawed sense to Barcelona because of their defense and somewhat declining midfield because of a stagnant quality that has been attached to its excellence, it’s now, even more than last season, when they missed out on the league and the Champions league title. This match showed that the reliance on Messi is greater than ever, and no league wins over Mallorca will hide that fact.

The challenges up ahead – Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, are just as tough, probably harder. Barcelona might even be underdogs in all three of those encounters if you read the signs correctly, because of their defense. Luckily, they have one player who truly is above the game itself, hoping he’ll be completely healthy and ready for their next challenge.

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