Today's game represents the first of our many matches without Messi. With all the recent talk - tax evasion, Manchester United - surrounding Neymar, it is time for the Brazilian to step up and shine. He now has a chance to come out of playing in Messi's shadow. Style-wise, Roger Schmidt's Bayer Leverkusen side are not the ideal side to face with a team still reeling from the injury Leo suffered against Las Palmas and after that debacle at Balaídos against Celta VIgo.
Here are some key points to note:
Leverkusen's intense gegenpressing
The likes of Karim Bellarabi and Hakan Çalhanoğlu press incessantly from the front, much like Pep's Barça back in the day. Schmidt's Werkself team have been described to press like an enhanced version of Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund. Leverkusen will stick to their philosophy of gegenpressing, and would have had a confidence boost when they analysed our loss to Celta.
On the positive side, we'll have our first choice defence, the one we had on the glorious journey to Berlin last season - ter Stegen in goal with a backline of Dani Alves, Piqué, Mascherano and Jordi Alba. This chemistry and familiarity does help in this regard; however, the team will have to be on their game to play through Leverkusen's pressing like we all know they can.
Leverkusen have the expected height advantage and, with the expertise of Çalhanoğlu at set pieces, will be a threat with their balls into the box. Needless to say, any side with Çalhanoğlu will be a threat from direct free kicks. The Turkish international has proven his worth time and time again as one of the best free kick specialists in the world. Fouls close to the box must be kept to a minimum, as all it would take is 1 swing of his right boot and Leverkusen would be on the scoresheet.
Attacking without La Pulga
In a day where, ahead of the individual, the team is increasingly becoming the star, it is nigh on impossible to think of Barca without Messi and Messi without Barça. Gone are the days of teams being built around foot-on-the-ball enganches like Riquelme. Instead, modern football entails promoting the team - for example, Thomas Tuchel's Dortmund or today's opponents.
Today's Barça is a unique synergy of team and individual. It will be a tough task for Luis Enrique to make the changes necessary for the team to adapt to playing (and playing well) without our mercurial Argentine. Granted, we do have stars like Neymar and Suárez. Even so, any team that plays without its talisman will suffer. It is in Lucho's hands to minimise the expected drop in performance. In this sense, we are our own worst enemy.