The MSN trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar now fully broken up with only the Argentine remaining, a previously wantaway number 10 now has to charge forward in his final contract year with the teammates he has at his disposal.
But let’s not forget that this is FC Barcelona after all. And even though the Catalans finished trophyless last term in a season to forget, they appear to have picked themselves up by the boot straps swiftly under new coach Ronald Koeman while the Ballon d’Or holder is still surrounded by talented colleagues.
Taking top billing ahead of even Messi himself in Barça’s first pair of La Liga fixtures have been Ansu Fati and Philippe Coutinho: new partners for the skipper alongside regular compadre Jordi Alba who have been outstanding in the reimagined 4-2-3-1.
Fati in blistering form with three goals thus far in the Spanish top flight, two of these have been assisted by a revitalized Philippe Coutinho.
The Brazilian previously creatively-suffocated, by being cast out on the left wing under Ernesto Valverde, his treble-winning loan spell at Bayern Munich has seen “Cou” return to the Camp Nou with improved fitness and physique, and therefore thriving in a more suitable central attacking midfield role.
He and Messi staying out of each other’s way, as the latter also inhabits the middle as a false 9 or cuts in from the right wing, there is still a slight tendency from Coutinho to operate on the left which, as SPORT point out, sees 45% of Barça’s attacks.
Coutinho, Alba, Fati and Messi all working excellently in tandem there, this of course comes at a cost to Antoine Griezmann with only 31% of forward moves taking place on the right flank in comparison.
Elsewhere, Mundo Deportivo report that Messi is ‘delighted’ by the physical preparation work being done under Ronald Koeman and Albert Roca at the Joan Gamper CT.
Won round and already “convinced of the Dutch coach’s idea for Barça”, the fruits of their labor were evident in the gutsy display against Celta Vigo on Thursday.
Achieving their first win at the Estadio de Balaidos in five years, the first team pressed until the dying minutes in storming conditions though reduced to 10 men.
Messi believes that Albert Roca – who was in the club’s employ on Frank Rijkaard’s watch when a certain teenage prodigy broke into the seniors – is creating something “very positive” ahead of Barça’s toughest test yet against Europa League winners Sevilla.
With a win tomorrow, the Catalans not just keep their 100% record in the Koeman era intact, but can also send Messi off to international duty further impressed by the Dream Team legend’s sporting project.