Barcelona's brand of football now bears Messi's name
Yesterday, I spent the day with a Barcelona-supporting chap who I've got a lot of time for. A fellow who knows what he likes, he's happy to see the Blaugrana winning games and trophies, but remains very particular about how (excessively so, in my view). I was surprised to learn that he wasn't altogether pleased with the 3-0 victory over Liverpool. The result was to his liking, clearly, but he couldn't get his head round the fact that Arturo Vidal had started ahead of Arthur. Had Arthur played, he felt, the Brazilian could have dictated possession much as Xavi used to, and Barça wouldn't have suffered the difficulties that they did for decent chunks of the match; particularly the first 15 minutes of the second half, when they were on the ropes. Barça came through that thanks only to Lionel Messi, he insisted.
We can't expect Arthur and Coutinho to emulate Xavi and Iniesta
He's not wrong there, to be fair. Barcelona did get out of that spot thanks to Messi. I'll come back to that. The fact is, though, that the Barça of six years ago is no more. It's entirely understandable that we should all miss it, but that doesn't change that it's now in the past. Xavi went to Qatar, and has just announced he's calling it a day, at the same time as the emperor of Japan - where, of course, Andrés Iniesta has moved on to. The side that Barça once were, and no longer are, was in large part down to those two, and I fear it is asking too much of Arthur and Philippe Coutinho to replicate what the pair did. They're both fine players, but have a long way to go to emulate Xavi and Iniesta in technique, personality, footballing intelligence, influence... in every area, to be honest. The Barça that was is gone.
And with it, a brand of football that people continue to demand. I don't know if we'll see it again. Right now, it all revolves around Messi, and he's certainly embracing the responsibility. Against Liverpool, I saw what I believe just might be his best ever performance. That's a fair old statement to make, right enough, but I don't think I'd ever seen that kind intensity from him. Messi was a constant influence, grabbing his side by the scruff of the neck on a night when the Reds' firepower caused Barcelona real headaches: he fought, he jostled, he worked to win the ball back; he prompted in possession, and never lost sight of the opposition goal. In short, he was Alfredo Di Stéfano-esque. Barça's playing style is no longer called tiki-taka; it now bears Lionel Messi's name. And there's no reason to bemoan that fact.