Barcelona can cope without Lionel Messi for El Clasico
Saturday wasn’t a great day for El Clasico.
In the afternoon, Real Madrid continued their impotent run until the 73rd minute against Levante, the squad losing the match 2-1, the RM board losing further faith in manager Julen Lopetegui.
Shortly afterward, the player who might have put a quick end to Los Blancos’ goal drought struck for Juventus against Genoa in Turin. Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal wasn’t enough as I Grifino levelled to halt the Old Lady’s perfect start to the campaign.
Finally, in the evening, Barcelona welcomed Sevilla to the Camp Nou, La Liga leaders heading into the international break facing their closest challengers. Except it was the visitors who topped the table until Alaves defeated Celta Vigo on Friday evening to leap in front pending this confrontation.
Within 12 minutes, Lionel Messi set up Philippe Coutinho for a clinical finish and sprinted in on the counter from the right to fill the net himself. It was clear the Sevillistas had only been keeping the Blaugrana’s seat warm. Within another two minutes, however, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was out of the game.
After showing Sevilla’s Franco Vazquez too much of the ball while cutting inside, Messi clattered into him from behind, sticking his right arm out to brace his fall. Upon landing, he rolled about the pitch in such agony it seemed at first a decent impression of former teammate Neymar before replays showed his arm bending in the wrong direction.
Over the years, Barca developed the same dependency on their No.10 as the Merengues had for Ronaldo. They spent nearly 10 minutes taping his elbow heavily and attempting to convince the Argentine to remain in the game. It was no use. He walked gingerly into the tunnel using his shirt as a makeshift sling, Ousmane Dembele assuming his place.
The first half invited speculation the Cules would struggle to score without their talisman. Clear chances for Dembele, Ivan Rakitic and Luis Suarez all went begging. In the second half, doubts reached their peak when Marc-Andre ter Stegen produced a stellar double-save on the hour. The ball quickly went the other way, though, with Luis Suarez starring in another candidate for an Academy Award in the best embellishment category, drawing a penalty which he duly converted.
Pablo Sarabia pegged one back but it was too late for the Rojiblancos. Ivan Rakitic put the match and Barcelona’s ability to score without Lionel Messi beyond doubt on 88 minutes.
According to the club, he suffered a fracture that rules him out of five matches over the next three weeks. Included is next week's edition of El Clasico.
Even so, Ernesto Valverde’s squad made their statement against Sevilla. The early uprising in La Liga has been put down. Barca top the table, where they and pretty much everyone outside a 100km radius of Madrid expect them to be. The race remains tight. Alaves, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid are within two points. Despite their scoring and managerial crises, Real are a mere four behind. On the other hand, momentum suggests matters won’t remain that way.
It required some regrouping and adversity to bring it out, but Barca are not dependent on Lionel Messi to the degree their Clasico rivals still appear to be on the departed Cristiano Ronaldo. They are the more complete team. That bodes well for them in the title race. Although cold comfort for Madridistas now without their all-time scorer, it says less about Messi’s individual supremacy over their man.