First things first. In a month, FC Barcelona will meet to select a new president. Whoever that person is should do any, all and everything in his power to convince Lionel Messi to stay in Catalunya.
After his contract was leaked, there was a lot of focus on the numbers, but not as much focus on value. Yes, Messi earns the club more than he costs but even if he didn’t, how can you put a price on what he does. In Seville today, he entered a match that his team was losing. In about two minutes, he pulled them level. Some minutes later, his key pass resulted in a lead. To say that Messi changed the match is an understatement.
Messi changes everything. He deserves happiness, to be able to do what he wants. But the next president should move heaven and earth to keep Messi where he is, and build a sporting project that will let Messi be his best Messi right now, rather than the Messi that so many still think he is, and want him to be.
He was MOTM of an “exciting” match, one more like watching a high-wire walker make a hot fudge sundae in a tornado. Yeah, you get ice cream, but does it have to be so messy? This match was defined by great plays but also flawed play. Neither Betis nor Barça are going to be the centerfold for Defending Quarterly, the latter in particular. Both Betis goals were again defined by ridiculous defending. On the first, Emerson skinned Alba, De Jong decided to damn the torpedoes, leaving a cow’s pasture that Old Man Busi was in no shape to cover, so he just threw up his hand for offside, choosing the philosopher’s tack of a cry for justice, rather than action.
The second goal was even worse, but not as bad as the feeling we all had that it was going to result in a goal, because an inordinate number of set pieces do against Barça. This time, nobody marked anyone, nobody jumped, nobody did much of anything except look around in bewilderment as yet another team celebrates yet another set piece goal. It would be unfair to call them defensive errors as much as they were symbols of an ineptitude that has now become institutionalized. Thankfully, Betis was even sloppier in defense, a team that had just come off a comeback loss against Athletic Club in the Copa.
To be sure, two of the Barça goals were of the highest quality, and one used Griezmann as an agent of change. But Messi had all the space and time in the world to take his shot. And Trincao had only one thing in mind as he crossed the T, yet the Betis defenders stood and watched him, perhaps thinking he would hit the crossbar again. And well, he did, but this time the underside as the winning goal slammed off and nestled into the back of the net.
And Barça won again.
The comeback win continues a growth process for not only the team, but for individual players within that group. Trincao has been growing into his role ever since Koeman said to him, “Look kid. You gonna start playing like a man, or what?” Dembele has not only become part of the team, but a leader and a catalyst. One one play, where a slack pass resulted in a turnover, Old Dembele would have watched Betis run the other way. New Dembele charged right after it, a la Messi, and won the ball right back. The team is playing with fire, responsibility and confidence. On defense, it still can’t stop my 80-year-old mother from getting in a cross, but the mettle that it is displaying is the strongest argument for Koeman being given another season, with a summer transfer window that tries to bring in players that he wants. The group psychology is different, even if the players are still flawed.
Barcelona scored goals from the 70th minute onward in each of their last 6 games, including:
– The 2 winners vs Cornella
– The 2nd goal vs Elche
– Equalizer+winner vs Rayo
– The winner vs Athletic (Liga)
– Equalizers+ winners vs Granada
– The winner vs Betis pic.twitter.com/m6tQb2PCFd
— adil (@Barca19stats) February 7, 2021
I mean, look at that statistic. It’s absurd. It’s a team with the belief to turn losses into draws and draws into wins, it’s a team with belief. What that means going down the road? Who knows. But I don’t believe that this team would quit against Bayern the way it did last year. Everything feels different, like a group that now expects good things to happen. The psychology isn’t that big of a change, but it’s the difference in fighting for what you believe is your due, rather than accepting a negative result because … well … you believe that is your due.
And that quality is more than Messi, even as the presence of Messi is integral to its execution. Even before Messi was subbed on, Dembele was bossing the match, even as everything around him was chaos. Puig started, and Puig was rightly subbed off as he demonstrated once again that he is being brought along at the exact right pace. But he played with as much confidence as chaos. Barça is a team that thinks it is going somewhere, and that’s nice. In league, Atleti has a run of matches that includes Celta, Villarreal, Real Madrid and Athletic Club. And you never know. Look at last season as an example.
What’s crucial is that you put yourself somewhere to take advantage of good fortune, and that is what Barça is doing. By hook, crook, own goals and the wild wobblies on defense, the team is getting it done. Once that starts to happen, who knows what else might transpire.