Talking tactics: Barcelona v Real Madrid: The risk of the ‘Messidependencia’
Being able to call upon the best player in the world is obviously a boost for any team.
Lionel Messi has a barely believable 63 goals in just 53 games for Barcelona this season. He’s getting better too – even counting his blank in Wednesday’s 0-0 at Chelsea in the Champions League - Messi has an astounding 24 goals in his last 13 outings.
This super strike-rate is the fruit of a plan implemented by Barca coach Pep Guardiola upon taking the job in 2008. Guardiola soon moved Messi from the wing to a central ‘false nine’ role, and then chose the other forward pieces of the Barca machine to get the best out of the Argentine. Some attackers have had to adapt their games (e.g. David Villa), others have been sent packing as they did not fit (Samuel Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic).
This strategy has clearly worked well and Messi’s recent goals have brought 11 straight La Liga wins to cut Madrid’s lead from 10 points to just four. The flipside is that on the rare occasions their superstar does not score, Barca have a problem.
This season the Catalans have only won 40 per cent of the games when Messi has drawn a blank, and their current domestic winning run followed a loss at Osasuna when ‘la Pulga’ was held scoreless.
Messi’s brilliance recently has hidden the fact that his attacking team-mates are struggling in front of goal. Alexis Sánchez has just two goals in his last 12 games, Pedro Rodríguez just three in his last 20. Cesc Fábregas has only one in 18 since the turn of the year, but remains his side’s second top-scorer. Madrid fans have seized on these stats and accused their rivals of being a one-man team - even coining the phrase ‘Messidependencia’ to ram the point home.
They argue that Ronaldo’s forward colleagues help out more. Karim Benzema has 29 goals this season, with Gonzalo Higuaín close behind on 25. Between them Madrid’s ‘tridente’ have well over 100 goals in all competitions. This sharing of the load means Real are usually capable of scoring even when Ronaldo has a rare off day.
Blaugrana supporters will insist that Messi could easily settle tonight’s game with his genius. They are right of course, but putting all your eggs in one basket - even such a brilliant basket - has its risks.
Madrid assistant coach Aitor Karanka was right to point out that Real Madrid had matched Barca blow for blow in their last three visits to Barcelona. He did not mention that Barca got the result they needed in all three of those second-leg ties – or that the last time Madrid came to the Camp Nou for a league game they were beaten 5-0.
Nobody expects a similar hammering for José Mourinho’s side tonight, but Barca’s greater need should see them come through again this evening - 2-1.