Lionel Messi has been the official conductor of the Barcelona orchestra since the great Ronaldinho was sold (or even before may argue) and again on Tuesday night against Juventus he demonstrated his brilliance.
During his time in the first team, Messi has now scored 515 goals and supplied 231 assists in 589 matches (via messi10stats). For his country, Argentina, Messi has scored 58 goals in 120 appearances.
This year though, Messi faces a daunting challenge that could affect his longevity both now and in the future; namely being the leader of both Barcelona and Argentina.
While considered the best player of our generation, and quite possibly of all time, this year poses a significantly more difficult challenge for the great Argentinian forward.
In Barcelona’s previous two treble-winning seasons, the greatness surrounding Messi was apparent: Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Dani Alves, Sergio Busquets, Neymar, and Luis Suarez to name just a few.
However, while still surrounded by amazing talent, this year is shaping up to be different for Messi. Even when playing superbly and winning trophies, Messi always had the help of world-class players behind him.
With Xavi and Iniesta leading the golden years of Spanish football from 2008-2012, Messi had two midfield maestros that made life significantly easier.
When he scored 91 goals in 2012, some credit was given to the midfield at Barcelona for making it easier and the abundance of attacking talent in the Argentinian squad.
That season was also Pep Guardiola’s last year and the main criticism from that team was the beginning of Messidependencia an over-reliance on Messi and his genius.
Reinforcements were needed to ease this burden, which led to the purchases of both Neymar and Suarez. This year, without the consistent brilliance of Iniesta, Xavi, and even Neymar, the burden is on Messi again.
Not only is he expected to score goals, but also to set up play for Suarez, Dembele, and in general, the entire team in the final third. However, as seen during Guardiola’s final season, an over-reliance on Messi is detrimental to the entire squad.
The total footballing system created by Johan Cruyff was not made to be orchestrated by one person, but instead to allow the best qualities of all players to be shown.
Relying on Messi’s magic each game can lead to a lack of invention for other position players and consequently lead to the double/triple teaming of Messi.
This sort of predicament leads to more challenges, minutes, and ultimately more frustration for Messi in the Barcelona team.
There are problems too for Messi with Argentina and this past international break is indicative of the problems he could face at Barcelona with over reliance.
In their World Cup qualifier against Venezuela that ended 1-1, Messi orchestrated every chance Argentina had.
There wasn’t a significant threat on the field other than Messi himself and Venezuela were able to focus their defensive strategy on containing the maestro, not the entire team.
Due to this, Argentina were only able to score once and lacked invention throughout the entire pitch except for the diminutive winger.
In essence, Messi is facing a season where he has to be the lone focal point for both club and country. Even by his standards, that is daunting and something that can be exhausting.
It is up to both managers and especially Ernesto Valverde to realize that Messi, while still magical, also cannot take too large of a burden.
In order for him to be most effective in the latter stages of the year, when the games matter the most, Messi’s freshness is key.
Implementing tactics and strategy to relieve Messi of having all the burden in creating chances can better the chances of Barcelona competing in all three competitions to their culmination.
Barcelona run through Messi, if he’s going full speed and is well rested, so is Barcelona.