Anyone who is remotely familiar with Betteridge's law of headlines will be able to see what's coming next; in the title of this article I pitched a question to the world: are FC Barcelona actually better without their superstar striker, Lionel Messi? Of course, the answer is "no", and anyone with a working pair of eyes will have witnessed as much over the past couple of weeks, as Barcelona have somewhat lost their invincible aura without Messi spearheading their attack. It's also clear that the Blaugrana are very much a different animal, philosophically speaking, without Messi in the team.
So, with help with our friends from Sportsmatrix, we've delved deeper into the numbers behind Barcelona's 2015/16 La Liga performances with and without the four-time Ballon d'Or winner and the results are interesting to say the least:
Maybe you saw some of this coming; certainly, news that Neymar, Luis Suarez and even Ivan Rakitic attempt more shots without Lionel Messi on the field is unlikely to come as a major surprise. However, what is fascinating is that all three actually create more chances for each other and their other teammates without Messi on the field -- which somewhat goes against the trend one might have expected, a trend in which you might have thought that Barcelona create fewer chances per match without the Argentine.
Evidently, the fact of the matter is that Barcelona, while just as creative sans Messi, are simply far less clinical -- a worrying trend that has only been exacerbated with his injury. Not only that, but with Messi out, the Blaugrana's tactical approach has shifted in a bid to keep creating these chances. The prior strategy of deferring to Messi against a stubborn defense simply isn't available, and the only suitable alternative that Luis Enrique has found is to open up the game, attack with reckless abandon and simply hope to outscore the opposition.
Yes, I'm simplifying and exaggerating for effect -- but the statistics paint a clear picture: Barcelona play a more open, almost uncontrolled style in a bid to lure opponents out of their shell; it works, and it helps them create chances in the absence of their best player -- but it leaves them equally susceptible at the defensive end and when they fail to convert the chances that they have been creating, bad things happen.
That being said, it's not all bad. Messi's injury has liberated Neymar and brought out the very best from our Brazilian superstar, who has thrived under the added pressure of being the de facto team leader. His four goal haul against Rayo Vallecano was testament to that and maybe, just maybe, he will be able to continue that form even upon Messi's return.
What do you think Cules? Do you think that Luis Enrique should be changing our style of play without Messi in the team to help secure results, or is the current approach still the best alternative in your eyes?