So it’s been four consecutive league matches without Lionel Messi scoring a goal. The last one he scored was back in September. Meanwhile, Barcelona don’t seem too bothered by it; not as long as they’re winning, keeping a six point lead over Real Madrid and getting quite a lot from Neymar and Alexis Sanchez, carrying the team through these weird and unexpected time.
The 1-0 derby win over Espanyol should have ended in a much more satisfying result. Andres Iniesta had some fantastic chances, and so did Neymar, who ended up setting up the goal scored by Alexis Sanchez, who is having much more than a rejuvenation season. He has turned into the team’s main executioner in the box, playing in a lot more central role than before and doing quite well at it.
Lionel Messi? It must be frustrating not being able to contribute as much as he did in the past, but his mere presence on the pitch is a huge problem for any team. He immediately draws three or four defenders to him with or without the ball. It might be keeping him in some sort of scoring drought we’re not used to seeing from the best player in the world, but it does make Barcelona a more dangerous team.
There’s been plenty of debate about Barcelona’s style this season. Sometimes there’s not much of the Tiki-Taka, and a lot more of a direct style. As the saying goes: If you can’t reach the opponent’s penalty box in three passes, why do it in 10? Maybe this is a mistake in terms of accuracy, but the essence remains the same. However, in home matches against inferior teams, we see the Barcelona of recent years, with its patient passing and ball movement.
Although it did end up bringing them only one goal, it was only quite a brilliant performance from Espanyol’s goalkeeper Kiko Casilla that prevented a much bigger win, that would have left a lot more people convinced about Barcelona’s dominance in the league.
The most pleasing of signs has to be Neymar. In yet another chance to draw parallels with Real Madrid, Barcelona’s most expensive import is coming along just fine in his assimilation to European football. He’s not scoring at whim and dribbling defenders off their feet, but he’s doing even better, with something unexpected: Very efficient in following exact orders, while feeling more and more confident in adding a personal touch of his own.
Unlike Bale, who is proving that diving is in his blood, no matter the venue and land, Neymar is simply carrying a South American stigma with him. There are others on his team that go down much more easily and react in quite annoying ways, but it doesn’t seem to compare to the shows Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo seem to put every time they’re touched or even think they are, like Bale’s embarrassing ghost tackle earlier this week.
Messi will score again, no one needs to worry. At some point, teams will have to stop making him with double and triple teams because Neymar and Alexis Sanchez are too dangerous to leave in one on ones. When that happens, Barcelona can feel happy about completing another step in their evolution and fixing their problems from the last couple of years.