Yesterday in Valencia, the world was once again reminded of why Lionel Messi is the greatest football player in the galaxy, and arguably the best ever footballer.
This however, was not a vintage Messi performance, as we have become familiar with and or come to expect. This was a brand new Messi; Messi the trequartista.
Over the summer, speculation was rife about the Argentina international's role under new Barcelona coach Luis Enrique. The first indications seemed that Messi would once again lead the line like he had in previous seasons when Enrique himself confirmed in a press conference that Messi’s role would not be changed to accommodate new boy Luis Suarez.
He declared that Messi would be granted the freedom to play wherever he pleases, but that did not stop rumours from circulating about Messi adopting a withdrawn role like he did for Argentina in the World Cup, where he was at the heart of everything they could muster creatively.
Enrique was certainly spot on with his declarations, as evidenced from the start of the new season. Messi still remains the side’s most pivotal character, and certainly still has the freedom to play wherever he wants.
The change to the style
However, there’s a slight, but hugely important change in Messi’s role. He no longer leads the front line, but instead supports it. Barcelona still play their traditional 4-3-3 formation, however, with Messi as a trequartista.
This role will have the fans not only seeing a Messi who is more withdrawn from the forwards (Neymar, and Suarez once his ban is over), but also offered complete freedom of movement. The simple plan here is to tap more into the talents of Neymar and Suarez, and as evidenced from the first four rounds of La Liga, the plan is working to perfection, with Messi assisting all three of Neymar’s goals to date.
To claim that Messi is underrated would seem absurd, but that is exactly what I will claim here. What makes Messi the greatest player on earth is not only his ability to keep the ball glued to his feet as he leaves multiple defenders in his wake and scores wondrous goals, but also has to do with his ability to spot a pass, and execute it on a dime like only the greatest playmakers in the history of the sport could and did.
Messi certainly has all the attributes to be one of the greatest trequartistas ever. His ball handling skills are unparalleled, he is as confident as you can get in possession, and his passing accuracy and vision is magisterial.
Add to that a borderline illegal left foot that can ping everything it hits into one of the four corners of the net, and you’ve got yourself a trequartista you couldn’t even build in a video game.
The downside of the new role
While Messi’s new role should see a more involved, creatively expressive, and prolific Neymar, the downside, is that Messi’s goal threat should reduce considerably.
In the first four games in La Liga, Messi has shown a level of maturity that has never before been seen in his game, opting time and time again to play the selfless pass in situations he would have previously gone solo. I love stats as much as the next person, and I certainly love when Messi shatters scoring records and stacks up amazing stats.
However, this season, we have to get accustomed to a relatively diminished return of goals, and an increase in productivity in the assists department. That being said it is not inconceivable either for Messi to dominate assists stats and still find enough time to reach the 50 goal mark for the season. Such is the player’s might.
Ready for disappointment?
Fans everywhere might be disappointed by the implications of Messi’s new role, however, it is imperative to remember that Messi has not been this devastating since the Guardiola era. I would quote his stats as evidence to this (directly involved in 9 of Barcelona’s 12 goals so far this season), however, that does not mean much, because Messi being Messi, has always sustained Barcelona stat wise even when he has not been at his devastating best.
Fans would definitely however, be encouraged by the new lease of life that Messi’s role gives Barcelona in general.
The future looks bright for Barcelona, and its most valued gem is certainly blindingly so, just not as we have traditionally known him to be, but as a real dictator of the game; a trequartista.