And just like that, the crisis was over. Barcelona, buoyed by the return of Carles Puyol, brushed Real Zaragoza aside at the Camp Nou on Saturday to maintain their three-point lead at the top of La Liga. The match wasn’t without its ups and downs and still the Blaugrana could not manage to keep their opponents off the score-sheet, but the victory was a step in the right direction. Compared to the match against Celtic, where Barcelona slumped to a shocking 2-1 defeat courtesy of some profligate finishing and schoolboy defending, Saturday’s performance was utterly majestic. After all, Barca scored with each of their three shots on target and while the defense does need a little more work, it’s nothing that a little consistency (selection-wise) won’t fix. Anyway, I’m digressing; here’s a look at some of the week’s main talking points.
Lionel Messi: "O Novo Rei do Futebol"
OK, OK, this doesn’t technically count as a topic from the past week, but do I really need a reason to bring up Lionel Messi? In the past couple of weeks, Leo’s scored a few more goals and in doing so, he surpassed yet another benchmark for goals scored in a calendar year. With Gerd Müller’s record just seven goals away, some say it’s only a matter of time before Messi adds yet another staggering accomplishment to his vast personal collection. Those individuals are probably right – scoring at an average of over a goal per game in 2012, Messi should break the record with a game or two to spare – and if we listen to his detractors (who unbelievably still exist), if those goals have not won us trophies, then what purpose do they serve?
Well, as luck would have it, I looked back through 2012 and Messi’s goals have won the Blaugrana 33 points in league action (out of a total of 88). Breaking that down further, Messi’s goals have won Barcelona their last two league games and over the season as a whole, Leo’s goals are worth 11 of our record-breaking 34 points. Take those goals away and Barcelona could be languishing in third place, eight points behind Atletico Madrid and some five points off Real Madrid. Applying the same logic to the UEFA Champions League, Barcelona would also be in third place (of their group), trailing both Celtic (by a solitary point) and Spartak Moscow (by head-to-head) ahead of their upcoming trip to Russia. Hardly an ideal position I’m sure you’ll agree, and to make matters worse, while a vocal minority were critical of La Pulga’s performances against Chelsea, the reality is that Barcelona would have crashed out at the quarter-finals stage without his goals – and this only takes 2012 into account. It’s difficult to imagine just how many points Messi has won this club in his time in Catalunya. Anyway, back to the record:
"If you are first you are first. If you are second, you are nothing." – Pelé
Curiously enough, Pelé has been known to speak some sense from time to time – and this quote is a perfect example of the mantra by which most footballers live their lives. Ask any footballer what matters most to them, and whether it involves individual or team awards, the bottom line is that they want to win. Lionel Messi is no different – he may not be (publically) driven by a burning desire to win those individual awards, but he does want the team to win. If that means he has to score enough goals to break Gerd Müller’s 85 goal benchmark then so be it, but for Messi, this record always is and always will be a means to an end.
Alexis Sánchez – Out of Form, Out of Luck; is the Chilean Out of Time?
Putting aside the thousands of air-miles, the international break was mercifully kind to the majority of our squad. Vicente del Bosque seemed to set the tone by leaving both Xavi Hernández and Gerard Piqué out of his squad to face Panama but normality was quickly resumed as Alexis Sánchez hobbled off just 20 minutes into Chile’s friendly against Serbia. Replaced by Manchester United striker, Ángelo Henríquez who went on to score a consolation for Claudio Borghi’s side, Sánchez has now gone 16 months without a goal for his country and with just one goal to his name in 15 appearances for Barcelona, many are speculating whether this injury could "end" his career with the Catalans.
Of course, there are no signs that Tito Vilanova is looking to offload the Chilean, nor are there any signs that Alexis is growing frustrated with life at the Camp Nou, but nevertheless, it’s something that needs to be addressed. With David Villa and Cristian Tello both amongst the goals, Alexis is unlikely to slot right back into the starting XI upon his return and yes, he has struggled for form in recent months but he remains an exceptionally-talented 23 year-old. With the January transfer window fast approaching, it’s easy to envisage a reality where at least one club makes an enquiry for Sánchez’ services – what’s to say that Barcelona shouldn’t consider such an offer?
I’m not saying that the Blaugrana should sell Alexis as soon as they receive an offer, but if he hasn’t shown any signs of improvement before the end of the window, perhaps a temporary change of scene could be the answer...