Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Football European

Lionel Messi's magic is papering cracks in Barcelona caused by Luis Enrique's tinkering

By Pete Jenson

Forget the Lionel Messi records, Neymar and Luis Suarez, three European Cups in the last eight years, and last year's last 16 result - Manchester City can beat Barcelona this time around.

Barca coach Luis Enrique has already used 22 different line-ups in 22 different games this season and the team has looked disjointed as a consequence. They have lost to Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid away, and although they beat PSG at home last week, it only served to illustrate the coach's incoherence as he picked a completely different side to face Getafe on Saturday and they spluttered to a goalless draw.

The weekend before they had been just as poor against Espanyol but were saved by a Messi hat-trick as they won 5-1 - his magic is covering a multitude of sins.

The midfield that was once their greatest weapon is now the biggest weakness. Real Madrid assistant coach, Paul Clement, was recently talking about getting the ball beyond the first line of pressure and making Barcelona's midfielders work defensively and said: "Xavi and Iniesta are great players but they are not getting any younger."

There has been a grave failure to rejuvenate, with the nonsensical sale of Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich last year and the criminal turning down of Toni Kroos in the summer speeding the decay.

In defence, Dani Alves continues at right-back because there is no alternative. Douglas was signed but even supporters of his former club Sao Paulo were shaking their heads at that £4.4m move.

In attack the parts have been greater than the sum with Suarez yet to score in the league. The components are similar to the Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto'o, Messi attack that Barca boasted under Pep Guardiola but Enrique is no Pep.

The team does not move in the same way as it did under Guardiola. The well-rehearsed passing moves that would suck rival teams into spaces they did not want to occupy and then cut through them are long gone.

Paul Scholes observed that they now lack the "breathtaking speed and penetration" of old. He is saying nothing Barcelona supporters would not agree with.

Enrique said yesterday that things will have changed come February and March when the games against City are played. Fans doubt that. There is a stubbornness to the coach that will bring conflict with the dressing room before it brings compromise and the transfer window will deliver no respite because Barcelona are banned from using it.

They blamed the state of the pitch and the four o'clock kick-off for the draw with Getafe. Yesterday, attention was being drawn to the second leg on March 18, just three days before the Clasico against Real Madrid - that will only add to Enrique's temptation to tinker.

Barca fans joked about "hot balls" being used in the draw after Real drew Schalke. The reality is that Real could take on all-comers; Barca needed a favour - and didn't get one.

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph