It’s not just him, but it’s mostly him. Lionel Messi didn’t really have a brilliant debut to the 2012-2013 season, but less than brilliant was enough to score two goals and lead Barcelona to a 5-1 win over Real Sociedad to start the league campaign with.
Chelsea are the European champions, but are they the best team in Europe? They finish 6th last season in England, and there are probably 4-5 more teams around Europe, not including Spain, that are just as good if not better. Real Madrid are the Spanish champions, but were they the best team last season?
They were the most consistent, and they won the money-time match, the Clasico at the Camp Nou, with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the winning goal and putting the title race to bed. But the best? Barcelona put in, as usual, more impressive shows when they were at their best. The problem is they weren’t at their best often enough to secure a fourth consecutive league title.
So what was Barca’s biggest problem last season? A lack of an edge an hunger that seemed evident through certain matches? The defensive problems that were exposed every time teams broke the midfield’s high line pressure, dealing with both injuries and poor individual form from Gerard Pique? Or the striker issue which is funny because Lionel Messi scored 73 goals, but in matches, late last season, the no-target man approach didn’t work so well against teams parking the bus or crowding the box well.
It would be too simplistic to say injuries ruined Barcelona’s season. They’re not the only club that had to deal with key players missing, but having such an important figure like David Villa go down and miss the entire second half of the season was a bit too much evidently for a club (even this club) like Barcelona to cope with.
And now he’s back. Barcelona had their usual summer – one, two surgical signings. Jordi Alba in place of Eric Abidal, adding youth and a lot more attacking prospect and options. Alex Song, officially instead of Seydou Keita, but Song offers a bit more subtle touches and passes along with the toughness of a defensive midfielder or a centre back. The return of David Villa from his injury, already scoring a goal straight out of the gates, might be Barcelona’s biggest addition this season.
It’s not that simple – Barcelona will have to deal with a declining Xavi while finding a way to incorporate Cesc Fabregas better than they did last season. Pedro needs to return (and it seems he is, slowly) to his old form after a disastrous season for him. The defensive rotation will have to be sorted out. But there’s a feeling of renewed hunger from the Catalans, for good reason. With that kind of talent pool and Lionel Messi scoring in bunches right from the start without actually even warming up yet, who’s to say this still isn’t the best team in Europe?