The one-man team concept blew up in the face of Barcelona and all of its supporters, always sure that any season without them making the Champions League final is just a small bug in the system, instead of a sign that they’re trotting in the same spot of mud for too long a time, and their growing emphasis on Lionel Messi being the only finisher has taken them backwards instead of strengthened their dominance against other European teams.
It’s hard to ignore the talents of Messi, but sometimes it feels like he was allowed to be raised a bit too high. A player who spends most of the match on about 50 square feet, with no defensive obligations, and everything is built on him getting the ball, creating his magic from there. As long as teams couldn’t find a way to handle David Villa, Pedro, Andres Iniesta and Xavi it was truly unstoppable.
But as the players around him seem to decline, or at least become easier to stop for teams with the tactical and physical capabilities to initiate such a gameplan, the over-reliance on Messi’s scoring ability and his magnet like attraction to team’s defenders is no longer something that creates spaces for his teammates. Because Messi isn’t looking for a pass as often as he did in previous seasons, while the way defenses handle the situation of him in control and limiting the freedom offered to others keeps improving.
So Messi keeps breaking records, but Barcelona, a global brand committed to succeed in more than just the Spanish La Liga, which seems like a consolation prize to the global fan in comparison with an early exit in the Champions League (and every exit before lifting the trophy is an early one, especially two seasons in a row), feels a taste of failure at the end of the season. When you clinch the title before the turn of the year, the memory of how amazing their initial run from August to December fades away quickly.
Barcelona aren’t suddenly going to revamp their entire philosophy and playing style, but tweaks, both personal and on a larger scale, including the way Vilanova approaches matches, is a must. Finally admitting that some signings on defense are necessary might be a good way to start. Adding some offensive firepower on both the wing or in the centre of the attack instead of the fading David Villa sounds like a good idea as well.
Lionel Messi might end up scoring more than 50 league goals, now back to full health according to reports. There’s nothing like battering helpless opponents after getting such a beating yourself. Barcelona just need to remember not to let a strong finish in the league get to their heads. They’re a team on a decline; not the end of an era, but no doubt desperate for some refreshing faces and attitude in a perfect machine that has grown a little stale.