A summer of change with plenty of new and intriguing faces for Barcelona. Lionel Messi, as always, remains the central figure in anything they do and hope to achieve in the future, but both sides might be best served by a change in his positioning on the field.
Lionel Messi has been the best footballer in the world for the past five or six years (sorry Cristiano Ronaldo fans). Not just the best player, but also the best finisher, and when he felt like it, he showed his passing skills were just as great as Xavi or Andres Iniesta.
The World Cup was a demonstration of what his career is right now. He still is an incredible finisher, with a knack of pulling it off at the right time in clutch situations, but there’s a limit to what he can do on his own. Argentina, without Angel di Maria, wasn’t exactly the kind of team to provide him with creativity and support, instead leaving him on his own on the attacking side of the ball. Still, Messi before the injuries of the last 18 months and under the previous medical crew at Barcelona would have done better.
He has never been one to cover great distances during matches. I don’t think he has suddenly gotten lazy. Messi isn’t the kind of player who ever ran for 90 minutes. He focuses his efforts, and has short spurts of pressure and sprinting when without the ball. The rest of the time he walks, waits for the right moment and strikes. It has worked quite well as the titles and statistics can attest to since 2008.
But maybe it’s time for a change. Barcelona are looking for defenders to complete the picture of their 2014 spending spree, but some internal changes need to be made. Luis Suarez and Neymar up front is something Messi can do well with, although it’s going to be difficult to foresee who the assignment will be distributed between the three of them.
Something about Messi’s agility and quickness has been hurt. Keeping the ball at his feet without letting a defender cleanly tackle him is proving to be more and more difficult. Operating in tight quarters and getting away with it isn’t as easy as it once before. Moving a bit behind might be the best thing for him and his career.
There’s always been something very fluid about Barcelona at its best. Something that maybe has disappeared a bit over the last couple of seasons. Xavi is no longer the player he was. Age does that to you. Maybe it begins from there. Andres Iniesta should be the one who takes his place. Lionel Messi can do what Iniesta does, or used to do, which will also put him in a position where it won’t be so difficult for him to blow by players.
Barcelona is a team on the move, in the midst of changes. Part of it is simply hitting refresh and changing the personnel. But just as important will be how they move players around in this puzzle. After being the best player in the world as a false striker, it might be wise for Lionel Messi to do something else, even if it means playing a bit further away from goal than he’s used to.