For those ney-sayers trying to find a reason to knock the league leaders, the game against Racing on Sunday was the ammo that they needed. Their ability to diagnose the Barcelona attack with a chronic case of “Messi-dependency” became obvious as Pep Guardiola’s lead over Real Madrid was about to be trimmed to nine.
With Racing ahead 1-0 and Messi coming off the bench, the dynamic of the match changed. Nikola Zigic put the boys from Santander ahead in the 56th minute courtesy of a penalty kick that opened up the scoring in a match that was quite tight. Barcelona was not able to move with their usual fluidity especially when they were facing such a hard-nosed side at El Sardinero. Messi came in and gave them also the scoring punch and openness they needed in front of the Racing goal. Messi gave that to them and 65th minute equalized. In the 81st he would score the game-winner and he etched himself in the Barcelona history books. His second goal was the club’s 5,000th. So 492 games after Guillermo Amor scored the club’s 4,00th, Messi joined him in blaugrana lore.
But Barca would pay for their defensive sins of the first 59 minutes eventually. eventually came at a price. Both Rafa Márquez and Gerard Piqué would be sent off leaving Barcelona with nine men on the pitch in the final minutes of the match, but that would not be enough for the home side as they were already fatigued and lacked ideas with the ball. Yes, the blaugrana achieved their ultimate objective- the three points; but it came at a very important price. Barca’s backline suffered a huge blow when both Rafa Márquez and Gerard Piqué were sent off in a span of two minutes and left the middle with a huge hole in the middle and they held on for the bumpy ride.
For Barca now their mission will be to continue their streak against a hapless Sporting Gijón defense. They will have to do it with only one central defender with experience in Martín Cáceres. Diego Milito is still recovering from his knee injury while Carles Puyol will most likely be unavailable after the injury he suffered against Espanyol at midweek. That will all depend on his recovery during the next few days. It would be wise to save him for this match as they will have to face Betis at the Ruiz de Lopera de following week. An injury to Puyol would be risky especially with their knockout stage clash with Lyon drawing closer.
Piqué and Márquez will be serving a one-match suspension as well as Dani Alves. The Brazilian international was shown his fifth yellow card and will have to sit out against Sporting. The good news is that they will face Sporting and Messi will mostly likely play prior to joining the Argentine national in France. So there could be a great possibility of seeing a shootout. Barca looks right now to have to play a 2-6-2, but that would trump any defensive scheme that Sporting would throw at them. To be more realistic, expect to play with a patched up bakline consisting of Sylvinho, Abidal, Cáceres, and possibly Barca youngster Victor Sánchez. Guardiola will also have to delve into his youth system to maybe have one of his diamonds on the bench ready for action just in case.
We will talk about these options as the week match draws nearer.
So is there such a thing as Messi-dependency? I guess you can say so. But to be honest, which team wouldn’t want to be dependent of the world’s best player?