A bright new team emerging at Barcelona that may yet persuade Lionel Messi to stay put

Andy West 04:13 05/02/2021
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  • A few hours after Lionel Messi hit unwanted headlines with the leaking of his contract to a Spanish national newspaper, the Argentine ace was back on the field of play for the kind of key moment which could yet keep him at Barcelona.

    No, we’re not talking about that moment. As magnificent as his free-kick goal against Athletic Club on Sunday night undeniably was, in the bigger picture there was a more significant moment both for Messi and the club in general.

    And that was the winning goal, when Ousmane Dembele released overlapping full-back Oscar Mingueza, whose precise cross gave Antoine Griezmann a simple tap-in from six yards.

    You might be thinking…wait…how could that be a key moment for Messi’s future when he didn’t even touch the ball?

    Well, that’s the point.

    Messi, above anything else, is a winner. He wants to be part of a competitive team which will give him a chance of winning major trophies. If that means the decisive action is sometimes executed without his involvement, that’s all for the good.

    Messi Barca winner

    What Messi doesn’t want is the situation he has faced in the last couple of years, where everything is piled upon his shoulders and his brilliance becomes a burden rather than a blessing.

    And slowly, step by step, a true team is emerging at the Camp Nou.

    Barca have hit decent form in recent weeks, winning 12 of their last 15 games in all competitions and rising to second place in La Liga. During that run, a number of players other than Messi have caught the eye.

    Frenkie de Jong is becoming the dominant, all-action midfielder we always expected when he arrived from Ajax 18 months ago.

    Antoine Griezmann has started regularly reaching his potential, registering seven goals and five assists in his last eight games.

    Pedri has continued his remarkably rapid development into one of the very best midfielders in Europe.

    Ronald Araujo is a fixture in the back four after emerging from the fringes to compensate for the absence of Gerard Pique with several assured displays.

    And Ousmane Dembele has stayed fit and started to regularly deliver the kind of game-changing explosiveness it was always hoped he could provide.

    Those individuals are performing well because the structure of the team allows it. Ronald Koeman, who deserves a lot of credit for the way he has encouraged the team to evolve, has created a collective shape that looks far more solid from front to back, giving the individual players a stable platform and confidence to play at their best.

    Messi Barca formation

    A team spirit is also becoming evident, shown by the way everyone celebrated together after the winner on Sunday. Talk of a rift between Messi and Griezmann has disappeared, as have rumours of a dressing-room divided by the ‘club de amigos’. And that new team spirit was very much on display in the stirring comeback win in the cup over Granada in midweek.

    Now, let’s be realistic: the team is still in a transitional process and they will face more bumps in the road. Barca will almost certainly not win La Liga.

    They are already too many points behind and have too many tough away games remaining, including trips to four of the top six.

    Considering their developmental state, they are also unlikely to have the consistency to overcome a series of top quality opponents in the Champions League. They probably won’t win that competition either.

    But they are moving in the right direction. A collective structure is emerging, performances are more convincing, results are getting better and a batch of gifted young players are becoming chief protagonists.

    Despite everything that has happened to make him unhappy at Barcelona, culminating in last weekend’s contract leak, this bright emerging team is getting much harder for Messi to walk away from.