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On Wednesday it was their defence being called into question, Barcelona’s 4-1 defeat at Celta Vigo was the third time in nine matches this season they have conceded four goals and they left Balaidos having shipped 15 goals already this campaign. To put that into context Luis Enrique’s team let in just 38 goals in the 60 matches they played on the way to the historic treble of last season.
Celta’s front three of Iago Aspas, Nolito and Fabian Orellana ran riot and where had Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Andre Ter Stegen disappeared to they asked. Pique, returning from a four match ban, and Mascherano gave the ball away 28 times, the former making the mistake for the second goal by handing the ball to Aspas who gleefully ran away to score.
Ter Stegen is also under growing pressure having been the goalkeeper for all the goals that Barcelona have conceded so far this term. Claudio Bravo meanwhile, not expected back until the game with Sevilla next weekend, has kept three clean sheets in the matches he has played.
Match should’ve been straightforward and Messi gets injured
On Saturday, in what seemed likely to be a straightforward meeting with newly-promoted Las Palmas at the Nou Camp, another goal went past the German, beaten by a deflected effort from Jonathan Viera after Mascherano, keeping up the habit he picked up in midweek, was dispossessed in his own half.
However Mascherano and Ter Stegen would be thankful for the attention being diverted away from their struggles as Barcelona won, the 2-1 victory given to them by two goals from Luis Suarez. Neymar could have made the game safe with a penalty but the Brazilian ballooned his spot-kick over the bar but, as it so often is, it was left to Lionel Messi to claim the headlines by tearing a ligament in his knee.
The Blaugrana will be without Messi for around 7-8 weeks and the Argentine faces a race against time to return in time for the El Clasico meeting with Real Madrid on November 21st. Messi already has 3 goals in the five league games played before he went down against Las Palmas and Enrique wasn’t ready to dress up the effect the absence of his talisman will have on his team.
“Firstly, it is always sad when a player gets injured. Obviously, when it is Leo Messi even more so for the weight he carries amongst our group” he said.
Messi’s injury a blow
Both Marc Bartra and Sergio Busquets spoke of how much of a blow it was to lose their “best player”, “the best in the world” as Busquets called him and it was clear, in their third match of the season at Atletico Madrid, how much of a senior figure Messi is in this Barcelona team.
In the unforgiving bowl of the Vincente Calderon the Argentine was introduced on the hour mark at 1-1, changing the game in Barca’s favour and he scored the winner 17 minutes later. “Things are always better when he’s on the pitch” was Neymar’s view after that game.
Messi, who hit 58 goals last term, won’t be on the pitch now for two months and with the Catalans in patchy form, with goals not exactly flowing in attack and Celta exposing their defensive flaws like Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao did in the SuperCup matches, it is a terrible time for Barca to lose him. Not like there is ever a good time to lose Messi of course, it isn’t a problem Barcelona have had to deal with often. Since 2009, Messi has been out for a total of just 105 days with injury.
Attacking reinforcements are already thin on the ground after Rafinha Alcantara’s ACL tear in the Champions League match with Roma ruled him out for the season so, as Enrique has said, it will be down to the players he does have available to step it up a notch.
Bigger onus on the big players
That will mean Suarez and Neymar, who have six La Liga goals between them so far this season, as well as youngsters Munir El-Haddadi and Sandro Ramirez, while a bigger onus will fall on the likes of Andres Iniesta and Ivan Rakitic in support of the front-line.
Suarez, and Sergi Roberto who delivered the pin-point cross that provided the Uruguayan’s first goal, dazzled against Las Palmas in a timely reminder to Enrique of the vast talent he has available in Messi’s absence, while Munir showcased his ability with an incisive run from the right to deliver Suarez’s second.
Unable to add to his squad until January, despite the attempts to register Arda Turan following Rafinha’s injury, Enrique will hope one of his attackers can thrive in the void left behind by Messi and to assume the mantle of being top-dog while the Argentine is out. It will also present somebody a chance to justify the summer sale of Pedro Rodriguez to Chelsea.
Madrid failed to beat Malaga on Saturday evening and missed the chance to leapfrog their Catalan rivals in the table after their mid-week nightmare in Vigo; with difficult fixtures at Sevilla and home to Villarreal to come in the next few weeks, Enrique, who maintains he will not shift the style while Messi is out, will be desperate for one of his players to fire them through before they meet their El Clasico rivals in late November.
Questions about their shaky defence need avoiding
The main problem will come in the search to create enough firepower to avoid too many questions being asked about their shaky defence. Attack should still be the best form of defence for the team that struck 110 league goals on the way to the title last season, but with Messi sidelined they are missing a vital, majestically gifted cog.
Enrique has to devise a plan to make it work without him or he will be faced with watching Mascherano and Pique crumble once again.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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