On Sunday evening Barça’s official Twitter account tweeted an image of Lionel Messi and Marc-André ter Stegen embracing, with the caption “The two biggest reasons we are where we are right now.”
It’s hard to argue with that statement.
Yet it seemed an odd message for the official club account to tweet. Especially given that there are a fair number of Barça supporters feeling disillusioned for that very reason.
Clearly, by disillusioned I’m referring to a very “Barça / Madrid supporter form of disillusionment.” It’s not a word that is uttered too often by many supporters when their team is sitting comfortably at the top of the table.
However, this has been a strange season in general in La Liga. Barça’s lofty position in the league being perhaps the best barometer of how odd it has been, given they haven’t really played very well all season.
They currently find themselves 10 points clear of both of their traditional rivals for the title in Madrid. Indeed, a common topic of discussion in recent weeks on the Spanish football podcast, El Larguero, is whether both Real and Atletico are essentially out of the title race before Christmas.
On last night’s show, the main debate was centred around the following question – who’s worse at the moment: Cristiano Ronaldo or Antoine Griezmann? The talisman for both clubs in the Capital in recent years has been off-colour this season, emphasised by both being involved in the 0-0 draw played out at the Wanda Metropolitano on Saturday evening.
The same can’t be said of Lionel Messi. With 12 goals already this season, he leads the La Liga scoring charts, while neither Ronaldo nor Griezmann even make the top 10.
But is Messi’s abiding genius doing more than a little papering over the cracks for Barça this season, together with some outstanding saves from ter Stegen? It’s not that the rest of the team has been bad – Umtiti has been great, while nobody could have imagined Paulinho slotting in as easily as he has done. It’s just that the Argentine and the German have been the standouts.
Which brings us back to that official club tweet.
Should a club like Barça be so reliant upon their outstanding goalkeeper and Messi?
Manchester United fans love David de Gea, but they’re the first to admit that it wasn’t a great feeling seeing him picking up consecutive player of the year awards. You want your forwards to be making the outstanding contributions, rather than your goalkeeper.
And while Messi’s goalscoring exploits are nothing new – they have been a constant for the last decade – for most of that time he had a world-class supporting cast to help him out, as well as a midfield that controlled every single game they played in.
That’s no longer the case.
The aforementioned club tweet was followed up around an hour later by another, perhaps recognising the negative reaction to the first.
“Hey, Barça fans! We’ve been reading your comments and we know these are not the only two reasons why we are leading La Liga. All our players contribute to our success. So, here’s your chance: why do you think we are where we are?”
In the 3-0 victory over Leganés on Saturday, it was another player, Luis Suarez, who stepped up, scoring his fourth and fifth goals of the season. However, apart from Suarez (5), Messi (12) and Paulinho (4), only two other players have scored more than one goal in the league this season. Paco Alcácer has two, as does Denis Suárez.
It’s true that Barça were unlucky to lose Ousmane Dembélé so early in the season, while any side in the world would miss Neymar. However, the suspicion remains that more players will have to chip in with goals if they’re to stay at the summit of La Liga until May.
For now, the two teams from Madrid are allowing Barça to open up a healthy lead, but there’s another team between them and Barça who have hung onto their coat tails more closely – Valencia. And Barça travel to the Mestalla on Sunday.
One imagines that those responsible for Barça’s official Twitter account are hoping to be able to post an image of a different player come Sunday evening. For now though, they probably are where they are because of Messi and ter Stegen – and maybe Ronaldo and Griezmann too.