Imagine thinking Barcelona should start the world’s best player on the bench in what is, on paper, their most difficult game of the season. But here’s five reasons why Lionel Messi shouldn’t start against Real Madrid, despite the news that on Thursday morning he trained with his team-mates for the first time since his injury.
Risk of injury
Barcelona and Lionel Messi said from the start of his recovery (from the damage done to his knee against Las Palmas) that they would not be taking any chances.
The Clasico was the set comeback date, just outside the eight week predicted period, but the emphasis was on not rushing the star back. Barcelona head into the game on November 21 with a three point lead on Real Madrid and the worst off they could be afterwards is joint top of La Liga.
Or would it be? There is an argument to say that Barcelona would be worse off with Messi out for a further few weeks if he re-injures himself, regardless of what the top of the table looks like. Clasicos are extremely taut, tense affairs. If you think the likes of Pepe and Sergio Ramos wouldn’t try to test the Argentine star physically – to put it politely – you would be mistaken.
No match rhythm
September 26. That was the last time Messi played for Barcelona. When the Clasico rolls around it will be 56 days since he was on the pitch. That is a long time to be out of action and there is no trickier game to be thrown into than a Clasico, particularly one on enemy territory.
In terms of pressure, there is no issue. Messi has proven time and time again he can dominate Clasicos. He has eight goals in the last 15 league Clasicos at the Santiago Bernabeu. It’s purely a question of being up to speed in an intense and brutal game. That said, even at half-speed Messi is arguably ahead of much of the competition…
Weapon from bench
Having Messi on the bench gives Barcelona a huge option to change the game if they need it.
Recall the game against Atletico Madrid earlier this season, when Luis Enrique didn’t start him because he had been away on international duty and then at the birth of his second child? Messi was brought on in the second half, changing the game and scoring the winning goal after coming on in the 59th minute.
Team improved without him
Barcelona are playing better now than they were when Messi was in the side earlier in the season. That is not a comment or reflection on the player, more on the way it takes Barcelona time to warm themselves up and get stuck in to the season. Like last year – they were much stronger in the second half of the season.
The attackers have found their gear, Sergio Busquets is back to his best in the middle and even the defence has stopped shipping goals – they have four clean sheets in their last four games. When Messi is added to the mix, they will move to another level – but to keep the current balance, perhaps it’s best to wait until after the Clasico before disturbing it.
Luis Enrique insisted that he would not be asking Neymar to step up his game and take the reins of the team in Messi’s absence. Whether he was telling the truth or not is irrelevant – the fact is Neymar has done that.
He’s a different type of player to the Argentine but creatively he has been a decisive force for Barcelona in the past few weeks. Luis Suarez has been sublime too, but Neymar, with able assistance from Andres Iniesta, has been the soul of the side over the past few weeks.
The Brazilian has earned a shot at continuing in that role against Real Madrid and Barcelona can rest safe in the knowledge that Messi will be sitting on the bench if they need something more.