December’s World Club Cup match against Al-Sadd represented a pivotal moment in the future of Barcelona and the career of Lionel Messi. In that match David Villa broke his leg, an injury that would keep him out for the entire season. And an injury that turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Barcelona as will be argued in this post.
Messi assumed Villa’s position as centre-forward and took complete control of the role of team penalty taker. After a few games, coach Pep Guardiola saw Messi’s potential for goals as central attacker and adapted the team so that Messi was supported by his teammates more than ever before.
Lio leads the Barcelona scorer charts with a frankly ludicrous 61; below him is Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Alexis Sanchez who together have scored 42. In previous seasons pundits would point to the Barcelona front three who together would accumulate over a hundred goals, but in 2012 there is now just one focal point to Barcelona: Lionel Messi, who puts the ball in the back of the net every time.
Barcelona’s enormously successful footballing philosophy that has brought them three of the last six Champions Leagues had always featured a razor sharp three-pronged attack. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why their source of goals is now narrowing to just one man. There appears to be a number of contributory factors instead.
The current squad’s players who would otherwise fulfil the wide positions, Pedro and Sanchez, have been limited to just 26 starting appearances. Taking their place has been Fabregas and recently elevated to the first team Isaac Cuenca.
The rationale for the decreased need for individualistic attacking players appears to be that Messi has now reached the level of excellence to be able to perform all three roles. Having two players either side who assist, rather than score themselves, has been preferred by Guardiola, and the result is Messi’s goal tally has soared.
As the season progressed, Messi has upped his involvement in free-kick taking duty. The responsibility now rests three-way alongside Dani Alves and Xavi. In future seasons, judging by his impeccable improvement curve it would be no surprise to see Messi wrestle the duty away from two of Barca’s most established players. It would further assist the change from FC Barcelona to FC Messi.