When Barcelona are in trouble, there’s nobody who saves the day quite like Lionel Messi.
The man himself is practically a living God at the Nou Camp and seems to have steadied the ship after a 5-1 aggregate thumping in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid.
The Catalans have started the league season well, accumulating three wins from three and without conceding. Meanwhile, Los Blancos have faltered – drawing both their home games so far.
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Messi, unsurprisingly, has played a key role in this resurgence with five goals including a hat-trick against Espanyol.
It’s an impressive goal scoring start to the season, especially when you consider the Argentine’s tallies have waned somewhat since the Pep Guardiola era.
Of course, his totals are still out of this world but the mind blowing 71-goal season of 2011-12 seems a distant memory. The 2013-14 and 2015-16 terms saw his figures slide down to the ‘average’ sum of 41.
Furthermore, Luis Suarez became the first Barcelona player to outscore him in 2015-16 since Thierry Henry back in 2008.
And while his recent finishing stats would still rightly see him as a Ballon d’Or staple, Barcelona have a plan to lift Messi back to his zenith.
As highlighted by Marca, this season has marked the first time since Suarez’s arrival that Messi has been regularly played in the false nine position. This is the role that first propelled the 30-year-old into astronomical goal tallies.
When Pep Guardiola shifted him centrally and Samuel Eto’o out wide in 2009, many were shocked but not when they saw how Messi adapted.
At the weekend, Ernesto Valverde reverted to this model with Suarez being shifted out onto the left hand side. His Argentine strike partner hung back in a central role to dictate the play and also burst forward.
It proves a happy medium for the Barcelona talisman and his emphatic treble demonstrates just how effective the system is.
Valverde explained: "He's not a natural striker, but it was a possibility to put him there because of his tendency to participate in the attack.
"He's not a natural striker, but it was a possibility to put him there because of his tendency to participate in the attack.”
Sometimes the old ways are the best.
Ousmane Dembele looks to complete the triumvirate in playing along the right flank, a position from which he provided a delightful debut assist. It makes for a menacing attacking force and one that Real should certainly fear.
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