As Barcelona prepare to take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals, not many people are giving them a chance.
In a strange turn of events, the Catalan giants are heavy underdogs in the tie despite despatching Napoli in the last round relatively comfortably with a 3-1 win on the night. While many will say it’s purely down to the form and brilliance of this current Bayern Munich side, I’m more inclined to go with the poorness of the Barça side being the reason.
After sacking Ernesto Valverde in January while top of La Liga, they went on to lose the league title to Real Madrid and didn’t make it to the Copa Del Rey final, losing to Athletic Bilbao.
Now, their final chance of a trophy is Europe’s most coveted club competition. They will come up against a formidable Bayern side.
Robert Lewandowski would surely have been a shoe-in for the Ballon D’Or this year had it not been cancelled, while Serge Gnabry is enjoying the best scoring season of his career too. Joshua Kimmich and Thiago have mustered a partnership in midfield capable of absolutely any type of game, while Thomas Müller broke the assists record in the Bundesliga this season from the No.10 role. Alphonso Davies has come to prominence as one of the best young prospects in the world at left-back, while David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer offer an assurance in defence with their experience.
What they don’t have though, is Lionel Messi.
The little Argentine voiced his concerns following the end of the La Liga season, claiming the club needed a big overhaul of playing staff and at board level if they are to compete at the level expected of them.
In the game against Napoli, he scored another stunning solo goal before his pressing forced an error by Kalidou Koulibaly and he won a penalty that Luis Suarez converted. As well as being the best player in the world, Messi is still arguably the best dribbler, best passer and best playmaker in world football. Everything Barcelona do well, goes through him.
He’s 33 now though and beginning to see those sky-high standards he set become a bit out of reach. 2019/20 is Lionel Messi’s lowest goalscoring season since 2007/08, when he finished the campaign as a 21 year old. He still managed to come away with the Pichichi award (top goalscorer), while also becoming just the second person ever to score and assist 20+ goals each in a single league season after Thierry Henry in 2002/03.
Just because his level has dropped from his prime, which is only natural with age, he is still ahead of everyone else on the planet. The gap is just slightly smaller now.
Barcelona will need Messi to be up for this game if they are to have any chance of success in Lisbon. We’ve seen him do it a million times before, he can win even the biggest games on his own. This is one of those games where he will put Barcelona on his back and run with them if they are to progress to a semi-final clash with Manchester City or Lyon.
As unlikely as it is, this is Lionel Messi. Just like his sponsors ‘adidas’ say, anything is possible.