Maybe this is going to be the new thing for Barcelona heading into next season – starting Lionel Messi on the bench, and then throwing him into the match when he’s most needed, just to show his brilliance and scoring ability in a much narrower window of time. Tito Vilanova has used that “trick” more than once this season, and it seems to have worked every time.
Can a player win the Pichichi by coming off the bench? Messi needed only 34 minutes to score twice, hit the crossbar again while turning the match on its head simply by started to take off layers on the bench and ignite the dormant Camp Nou, still depressed from the humbling experience against Bayern Munich, witnessing a fun-to-watch Betis side make the most of their makeshift defensive line.
Andres Iniesta was probably the only player to come out of the midweek shock – delivering a brilliant assist from the right wing to Alexis Sanchez with the first equalizer, and adding a brilliant assist to Lionel Messi (offside probably) using a cheeky back-heel pass to give Barcelona the clinching 4-2 win. But it took time for Barca to climb out of bed and understand depression doesn’t suit them, and more importantly, doesn’t help them win titles.
One more point, and there will be no catching them. But you could feel some sort of despair in the Barcelonian air during their match with Betis, after watching Pinto pick up the second ball from his net. Barcelona were playing well after scoring their first equalizer, but the defense made up of Gerard Pique and Adriano in the middle, never a good combination, seemed to give everyone heart attacks whenever Betis were near. Eventually, it was a stunning long range shot from Ruben Perez that made things complicated once again.
Lionel Messi shouldn’t be this important, but he is. There’s no getting around it. The entire team gets a boost simply from seeing him get the command from Vilanova (or is it Messi that commands him when to enter the match?), pull off his trainer and hardly do any warming up. There’s no need to really exert yourself in early May, when the Mediterranean air makes it warm enough to get by without too much running around the pitch.
The team started playing better simply by hearing the buzz from the fans, and David Villa remembered it was him that was going to be taken off, and scored a goal so no one will say he didn’t do anything during the match (which he didn’t, except for the second equalizer) before clearing the way for Messi. The rest? The usual panic on the Betis side, while Messi himself looked like the genius he usually is with every touch he laid on the ball with his gifted left foot.
Next season, something has to change. Messi can’t be the beginning and ending of everything. There has to be a chance to give him some rest while not being worried everything will fall apart without him. Something has to be done about the defense. But that’s not the time. Barcelona need one more win to secure their fourth title in five seasons and 22nd overall, and they’re not going to get it without Messi on the pitch.