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Barcelona thrill in attack even without Messi, but the defense is very weak

Injuries to three forwards has not stopped Barça from finding the net, but a leaky defense is a huge problem

Barcelona V Valencia, La Liga regular season. Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Lionel Messi has not played a single minute this season. Luis Suárez and Ousmane Dembélé have missed a good chunk of it. Barcelona have been forced to give youth players like Carles Pérez and Ansu Fati starts in the forward positions, with Antoine Griezmann moving to different spots along the forward line as needed.

The good news is that this team even without Messi still scores goals. Sure, they were shut out in the league opener, a 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao. But since, they have scored a whopping 12 goals in 3 matches since.

Fati and Pérez have been revelations in their own way, with Fati scoring twice and assisting once and Pérez assisting twice and scoring once. Griezmann has led the line convincingly, netting two goals and two assists. And Luis Suárez proved he still has a deadly finishing touch in the last game, scoring a quickfire brace off the bench.

Fati and Pérez will continue developing, while the understanding between Suárez and Griezmann will improve. Meanwhile, the recovery of Dembélé and Messi surely will add even more firepower to attack. Just remember, Barcelona wanted to invest over 200 million in another forward, Neymar, this summer. Is that still considered prudent?

The defense is another story. While Neto, Samuel Umtiti, and Junior Firpo have missed time due to injury, they are not considered starters. The starters have all been fine, at least physically. They just have not been up to it as much. Conceding two goals each of the last three games is rough going, and it’s even a little surprising they have gotten as much as 7 points out of it. This simply cannot continue if the team wants silverware this season.

The midfielders and forwards can also help. Frenkie de Jong is a brand new face and is beginning to show his true quality, while Ivan Rakitić adapts to a role-player situation. Griezmann’s off the ball pressing will also come in handy, but at the end of the day, it is up to Ernesto Valverde to figure out how to stop his team from leaking goals.

There are a couple of options in terms of personnel if one player is going through a rough patch. Firpo was signed precisely because he could pressure Jordi Alba, while Sergi Roberto has in the past been ahead of Nélson Semedo on the other side of the pitch. In defense, the team has fewer options, at least for now. In theory Samuel Umtiti is an enormously good player to have as a backup, but his injury problems are a huge concern. Jean-Clair Todibo is a very promising player, but whether he could really be an upgrade over Gerard Piqué or Clément Lenglet remains to be seen.

The return of Messi probably will help even the defense. Simply put, an opposing team has to be more cautious if Messi is around than if Pérez is there. Sure, Messi might not give you as much workrate, but the effect is still a net help for the team.

it’d be a shame if Valverde thought he had to get rid of the Arthur, De Jong, and Busquets combination in midfield to add steel. The three are the best passers on the team, at least when it comes to short combinations that recall Barça’s glory days.

Perhaps he just needs some time to work out the kinks in the team’s defensive set-up. Some more drills and more game time, and maybe a switch or two in terms of players, could be just what the doctor ordered. The only other alternative is to pray that you can win competitions by beating teams 5-2 regularly. That seems like a low percentage chance.

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