At the basis of the Barcelona theory of improvement is one basic principle: Finding out how to help Lionel Messi. That’s why Neymar and Luis Suarez were signed when world class centre backs would have been more helpful, and that’s why the emergence of Munir El Haddadi might be a very big thing in a very interesting season for Barcelona.
The first test drive for the 2014-2015 season, a competitive league debut at home against Elche, went quite swimmingly. Barcelona did lose Javier Mascherano to a red card which means defensive shuffling before the season even began, but a 3-0 with 10 players is nothing to scoff at. Not when Lionel Messi seems like the hungry and unstoppable player he usually is, and not when a star is possibly born in front of the home fans.
El Haddadi had an excellent preseason, capped off by his performance against Leon in the final rehearsal before the season began. At 19, he slightly reminds us of Pedro breaking through in the 2009-2010 season. A winger who has the ability in two or maybe more positions up front, blending in with Messi quite effortlessly, skilled and intelligent enough to know what decision to make and where to be at every moment.
That can’t be said of Rafinha, who had a forgettable debut on the right wing. Barcelona are still a 4-3-3 team with two wing backs that make it into a 2-2-3-3 system when with the ball. Sergio Busquets was the one who made the costly error to force Mascherano into making that foul. Rafinha won’t be appearing very often in that position, not with Pedro healthy soon and Luis Suarez and Neymar eventually back, each in his own time.
Ivan Rakitic made his debut, switching positions, playing a bit behind the strikers early on and later moving to a more central, retreated role, behind and to the right of Andres Iniesta. With Sevilla, he was a star, a playmaker with something of a free role. It’s going to be different at Barcelona, and he didn’t seem to have any problems fitting in with new players. Things are easy with Messi playing in front of you to make every pass you feed him look like half an assist.
Last words on Messi? A World Cup in which he scored four goals and won the MVP of the tournament, helping (and sometimes leading) his team to the final, was branded a failure. Last season, scoring 41 goals in 46 matches, he “coasted” or “saved himself” for the World Cup. Now? He’s 27, and only six goals away from becoming the top scorer in the history of the Spanish La Liga. Maybe his best is behind him, but it’s hard not to think that the only reason he’s been looked down upon is because of the huge expectations he has set for himself over the last six seasons. Almost impossible to live up to.