A Clasico showdown versus Real Madrid, or West Ham away? Prior to Lionel Messi steps out onto the Camp Nou pitch on Saturday, remember this: he had comprised his mind, and he had actually picked West Ham away.
Betting Manchester City was Messi’s prepare for 2020-21, it is thought, and if that meant compromising leading Barcelona against their biggest competitors, shucks to it.
Messi must have thought he had absolutely nothing left to prove in this fixture, being already the top scorer in Clasico history with 26 goals across all competitors, way ahead of names like Alfredo di Stefano, Cristiano Ronaldo, Raul and Cesar Rodriguez.
18 of those goals have been available in LaLiga, from 27 looks, and he has actually balanced one goal involvement per match in the league thanks to 9 assists.
Nevertheless, he has actually stopped working to score in his last 5 Clasico games – three in the league and 2 in the Copa del Rey.
This weekend, with the world viewing, Barcelona need the real Messi to stand.
Still the same player?
Before the king of the Clasico faces Los Blancos one more time, team-mate Ansu Fati was relocated to comment this week that “Messi is still Messi”.
The 17-year-old spoke after Messi’s early penalty assisted Barcelona to a 5-1 Champions League win over Ferencvaros.
Yet heading into that game, Barcelona’s new head coach Ronald Koeman stated Messi’s type “could be much better”, cosseting that in sufficient pleasantries to avoid any blowback.
When it comes to who is right – Fati or Koeman – it is tough to challenge the skilled Dutchman’s decision.
Doubtless Fati loves having fun with 33-year-old Messi, due to the fact that what teen wouldn’t delight in every minute playing with an all-time excellent?
But Messi’s numbers are down in the early weeks of this LaLiga season, with his typical attempted dribbles per game below 8.58 in 2019-20 to simply 4.75, and his shots on target per match at a fairly meagre 1.75 when he has actually averaged 2.15 or higher in each project over the past decade.
One goal in four LaLiga matches in 2020-21 relates to his slowest start to a season given that 2005-06, when the teenage Messi failed to score in his very first four matches.
The Clasico drought
Those five goalless matches in Spain’s most significant match have consisted of four starts and one appearance off the bench, amounting to 425 mins of football without a goal, his 2nd longest run without netting in the Clasico – behind a six-game sequence from April 2014 to December 2016.
He has actually stopped working to score with his last 16 shots in the fixture and has not been on the winning side in a LaLiga Clasico at Camp Nou considering that Barcelona’s 2-1 success in March 2015, having missed out on the 5-1 success in October 2018 because of a fractured arm.
He has not had a goal participation – scoring or helping – in the last three Clasico league matches, putting him one away from what from that statistical perspective would be the worst run of his profession.
And the goal return from Messi in Barcelona’s biggest house league match of the season has been modest – albeit only by his amazing requirements – for some time.
He scored twice in a 2-2 draw in October 2012 and netted once when the team played out the exact same lead to May 2018, but those are the only goals he has actually scored in this LaLiga game because a late strike sealed a 2-0 win in 2008.
No one has actually scored more Clasico league goals at Camp Nou than Messi’s haul of 7, which he introduced with a hat-trick in a 3-3 draw back in March 2007.
However the big-game returns are reducing with time, or a minimum of that is how it appears.
Has Messi end up being a flat-track bully?
The instinctive response is to challenge the use of such a reductive term to explain a footballer so noteworthy.
The shift takes place time and again though, from sport to sport. The aging superstars who when consistently tormented elite competitors dish out reminders of their most wonderful days in flashes, typically versus more minimal opposition than previously. Case in point: Messi looked superb at times against Ferencvaros.
In tennis, Roger Federer can still toy with low-ranked tennis players to the point of administering early-round humiliations, however will he win another huge slam title, having just recently turned 39? No, most likely not. Will Messi win another Champions League? No, most likely not. It is tough to see it occurring at a crisis-hit Barcelona, anyhow.
Messi’s haul of 25 LaLiga goals last season was his most affordable given that he scored 23 in the 2008-09 treble-winning campaign, when Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry were also scavenging for opportunities.
But if he is not scoring regularly against Real Madrid, and if he was helpless to prevent Bayern Munich’s rout of Barcelona in the Champions League back in August, then where is Messi making his big difference heading into his mid-thirties?
Since the start of August 2018, in LaLiga he has actually scored eight goals against Eibar, five each versus Real Betis, Levante, Alaves and Sevilla, and 4 each versus Real Mallorca, Celta Vigo and Espanyol.
Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao are the two groups who have actually defied him throughout that time.
A leaving present
If this is to be Messi’s sign-off stretch with Barcelona – and given his recent state of vexation that appears extremely possible – then it is to be presumed he wants to leave with a swagger rather than a shrug of a season.
Had Barcelona’s board acquiesced to Messi’s departure at the end of last term, this weekend’s kick-off in El Clasico would have coincided with the Argentinian unwinding at the London Arena after a lunchtime outing for Pep Guardiola’s City versus David Moyes’ Hammers.
Possibly Messi would have tuned in for El Clasico on the team trainer; possibly not.
Messi was prepared to compromise the Clasico – the hysteria and the record that surrounds it – and that summarized the schism that had developed between him and the club’s management.
He has because lost buddies Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal, unloaded to Atletico Madrid and Inter, and lost some of his sparkle at the same time.
Suarez and Vidal will not be coming back, but the shimmer still might. There were flashes against Ferencvaros – once again, take the opposition into account – however a Clasico against a wobbling Madrid side appears as excellent an event as any for Messi to provide a suggestion of his achievement.
If he can lift himself for any match, it needs to be this one.