Unless Lionel Messi recovers from injury, Barcelona could struggle in next week's Champions League quarter-final second leg against Paris Saint-Germain.
An exhilarating match in Paris on Tuesday night saw two sides born out of very different origins take to the field to do battle against each other.
Whereas the expensively assembled PSG have only been recently put together at staggering costs, the majority of the Barcelona squad have been plying their trade together for the best part of a decade thanks to their emergence through the famed Barca academy that has produced countless numbers of world-class players.
Despite the array of talent to emerge, however, Messi still stands head and shoulders above the others. The 25-year-old has broken every record possible with his 268 goals from 264 appearances for the club since 2008, including scoring 91 goals in a calendar year that broke Gerd Muller’s seemingly unbeatable record from 1972.
It is Messi’s awesome pedigree in the last few years, however, that Barcelona will sorely miss if the Argentinian does not recover from his hamstring injury that saw him leave the Paris pitch early on Tuesday night.
To suggest Barcelona are a one-man team is far-fetched; they have four others who made the FIFA Team of the Year for 2012. In recent weeks, however, Barcelona have come to rely on Messi’s goals to such an extent that his failure to recover from injury could spell disaster against a Parisian team spearheaded by the eccentric Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Although undoubtedly a team spoilt with riches, with the exception of Messi, Barca’s forwards have been mis-firing this season. Whilst Messi alone has scored 57 goals since August, Barcelona’s two other strikers on Tuesday night, Alexis Sanchez and David Villa, have managed only a paltry 19 between them this season.
Both have struggled, with Villa failing to re-establish himself after eight months on the sidelines and Sanchez increasingly proving his £26m transfer fee to be a waste. Indeed, without Messi in the team Barca have scored, on average, just under 1.5 goals a game less than they do with the Argentinian in the team.
Although they do have the ability to score from midfield, without a top-quality striker to give service to it will mean that Barca could struggle against the brick wall that PSG captain Thiago Silva proved himself to be, even if Marseille midfielder Joey Barton did think that he looked like an "overweight ladyboy".
Without Barcelona’s usual ability to rely on an inevitable flurry of goals from their strikers, therefore, PSG will be well justified in smelling a potential upset at the Nou Camp.
The defence of Barcelona is not the force that is used to be, especially without Carles Puyol and now Javier Mascherano, who faces a six-week layoff after being injured on Tuesday night. The expensively assembled trio of Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi will fancy their chances to score against a rear-guard that Barca coach Tito Vilanova will more than likely have to fill with either Alex Song, voted the worst signing of the season in Spain, or Eric Abidal, who has just returned to football following a liver transplant.
The deficiencies of the Barca defence and attack, therefore, means that the team doctor’s will be working overtime to ensure Messi’s fitness for the pivotal return leg next Wednesday.
If his hamstring proves to be more troublesome than initially feared, however, than do not be surprised if PSG emerge victorious next Wednesday night.
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