It’s so rare to have Lionel Messi start and play an entire La Liga match for Barcelona without scoring even once, but at this stage of the season, with the title officially secured, what’s the point? Tito Vilanova didn’t ask too much of his players, who some of them, like Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas, need to show in the final moments that they deserve to be entrusted with his faith for next season, but they delivered three more points anyway, as Messi played his final match before he officially begins his summer vacation.
The injury that has been a part of his routine for the past month or so hasn’t truly left him, and now that there’s no more need for his goals and brilliance, he can truly take some time off without having to worry about his team not doing well without him. For the minor challenges the league finish might still be offering them, Barcelona have enough to put themselves safely in the legs and arms of someone else.
Messi won’t break his La Liga scoring record, standing at 50, from last season. He finished the 2012-2013 campaign with “only” 46 goals in 32 matches, possibly giving the always goal hungry Cristiano Ronaldo a chance to bypass him for the Pichichi title, although it’s going to be difficult for the Real Madrid star to score 13 goals in the next two matches; it seems quite impossible, even for him.
Barcelona didn’t find a way to become a team less dependent on Messi. Last season their scoring without him was abysmal, and this season it wasn’t much different, maybe a little better, but in general there was a sensed regression in ability and finishing for all forwards: Pedro, Alexis Sanchez and David Villa, with the latter probably finding himself on another team in the next few months.
What’s left to learn from the final days of the season is who joins Messi for the relaunching of the assault on the European trophy and the continental dominance next season. Two years without a final, without the Champions League is truly too much for a team we’ve gotten used to seeing lifting it quite often over the last seven years (three times, the only team over the last 10 seasons with two UCL trophies); some players have to prove they’re good enough not to be replace or demoted next season.
Not a lot can be learned from matches against Real Valldolid, Espanyol and Malaga, not at this stage of the season. Malaga are the only team that really needs the points, although Espanyol will play like a team that needs them in an attempt to cause some derby upset, hoping that being on the fringes of another exhausting and draining season for Barcelona will give them a rare victory.
Lionel Messi won’t be used. No need in causing some long term damage when there’s nothing left to play for. Even if Neymar does arrive in a few months, and it’s unlikely that he will, the stakes are too high when Messi is involved. Unless and major upgrade and revamping of the squad and playing philosophy is made by Vilanova in the next few months, we’re probably headed towards another season in which everything falls on the shoulders and talent of the little Argentinian.