How do you know Barcelona are declining? We could only find four reasons that make them favorites to go all the way and win the Champions League. Lionel Messi is one of them, the main one of them, standing tall above the rest of them. Without him, there’s really no hope of triumphing, making it clear that there’s a true need for some new blood and changes on this team.

But there are some things to build on besides Messi. The kind of football Barcelona play when they’re at their best is something even the greatest haters can’t ignore. It has a lot to do with the quality in the middle of the pitch with Xavi, Andres Iniesta but also Sergio Busquets and Cesc Fabregas. A healthier Tito Vilanova instead of Jordi Roura on the touchline can also make a world of difference.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi Goal

When you have the best player in the world, or at least slightly more than 50% on the planet think he’s number one, you’re in good shape. Messi is that good, that even a declining (can’t help but admit that) Barca team can still be regarded the best in Europe if he’s healthy. It’s not even about form because when your scoring average is 1.3 goals per match and you can go on scoring in 15 consecutive games, there’s no such thing as form. He can score while playing horribly, only needing the smallest of chances and gaps to make something happen on his own. So far this season he has 57 goals in 46 matches, including 8 in the Champions League.

Football That Only They Have

Call it Tici-Taca, or a modernized version of total-football, it doesn’t really matter. Bayern Munich and Dortmund play “modern” football, and Barcelona play the perfect kind, when they’re good, at least. It doesn’t happen as often as it did between 2009-2011, only raising its head in home matches it seems or when they’re in biggest of needs, but Barcelona, just like Spain waited for the Euro final to start firing with all their guns, have the ability to play possession football and switch it into a devastating, lighting quick passing game in a system of football that up to this day can’t be stopped when everyone arrives to the pitch at their best. It happened in the 4-0 win over Milan, showing they still “got it”, and it wouldn’t be too surprising to see them pull that kind of show one more time.

Xavi-Iniesta-Busquets-Fabregas

Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas

Barcelona don’t always use these four in the 3-4-3 diamond Guardiola tended to use last season. Fabregas or Iniesta are quite often one of the front three, next to Messi and another player. But any team that has Fabregas as their weakest link out of a quartet of midfielders is in good shape, even if Cesc isn’t at his best all the time. Busquets does the dirty work, Xavi is the man who organizes everything while Iniesta and Fabregas are responsible for quality and moments of brilliance. No other team in the world has that kind of quality in the middle of the park or anywhere else on the pitch.

Tito Vilanova

Some might say that Tito Vilanova was the tactical brain behind Pep Guardiola, especially with his in-match changes. That is probably something we’ll never really know the answer to, but one thing is clear – Barcelona with Vilanova were unstoppable, while under Jordi Roura the points didn’t come as easily. Maybe it was only a matter of time before they slowed down, but Roura never wanted to be a head coach, and doesn’t really understand the game as well as others, showing limited abilities in making changes when things didn’t go so well. Roura is still taking press conferences and yelling orders, but Vilanova is back, which means Barcelona are a better team for it. Possibly better than anyone else.