FC Barcelona may still have a reputation for free-flowing attacking football but anyone watching the club regularly will tell you that the reality is very different the club’s attack has been on the wane for years with 2019-20 the fourth consecutive season in which they’ve taken fewer shots per game than the year before and not only is the number of shots decreasing from over 17 in 2016-17 to just 13 in 2019-20 but the quality is two five seasons ago Barca were a rampant offensive side leading La Liga by miles with an incredible 140 expected goals across the league campaign working out to roughly 3 xg per match
that has got worse every season since and in 2019 20 the Blaugrana put up just 72xg or 1.9 a game falling behind real Madrid in this metric for the second time in three years, that’s largely because basses have got worse at keeping possession and worse at having that possession in dangerous areas under Guardiola Barca had less of the ball than their opponents in just one of 247 games while Luis Enrique’s iteration saw less possession in only six of his 181 matches in charge, Valverde, on the other hand, had less of the ball in nine of his 145 games and while Setien attempted to address that balance he did it by creating a more conservative side with Barca playing a lower proportion of passes in the attacking third than in 2018-19.
to make up for this the team has become more reliant on Messi than ever with the Argentinian not only leading the squad in goals and assists but also in dribbles crosses and through balls, not just the best creator and scorer at the side Messi is also required to get the ball upfield in the first place with twice as many progressive passes as anyone else in the side and three times as many passes into the penalty area that’s a clear sign that Barcelona no longer have a plan which allows them to get into scoring positions and instead are happy to rely on the best player in the world to do it for them at 33 they can’t be surprised that Messi is getting tired of the burden
it sounds too easy to say that Barcelona make bad transfers after all every team does but there are few teams which make the same mistakes again and again as the Catalans seem to since 2014 Barcelona have spent over 800 million euros on more than 30 players and of those arguably just one Clément Lenglet has been a total success players like Andre Gomes, Jasper Cillessen and Malcolm were clearly not Barcelona level but were nonetheless signed for fees in excess of 30 million euros while the three largest signings Ousmane Dembele, Philipe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann were seemingly made without consulting the coach over how they would be used as a result Ousmane Dembele has rarely featured even when fit while Coutinho’s output dropped from a goal contribution every 102 minutes at Liverpool to won every 166 minutes in Spain before he went on loan to Bayern and won the champions league
Griezmann meanwhile was a player Barca failed to sign twice in the last five years and rather than move on to younger targets who would fit into the first 11 they eventually paid 120 million euros for the Frenchman at age 28. despite the fact that his two best positions on the field were already occupied by Suarez and Messi even Frankie de Jong one of the best young midfielders in the sport has been crippled by the team’s poor planning told to curb his line-breaking runs and aggressive passing in order to cover for the aging but still, undroppable says yo Busquets signing old overpaid players and ignoring youngsters is a recipe for long-term financial worries and a squad in decline and even if the hierarchy recognized that it could take years of planning to build a team ready to compete for European trophies again as long as the board ignore their role in the current mess Barcelona can’t move on and as Johan Cruyff said in the early 90s the directors never knew why the team won so how would they know now why they’re losing.
it’s tempting to see Barcelona players as what they have been rather than what they are now but it’s clear that Messi’s supporting cast can no longer keep up with the six-time Ballon d’Or winner Luis Suarez was his only teammate to score more than 10 league goals in 2019-20 and even he saw a fourth consecutive year of decline in both his shots and chances created while injury limited him to under 2000 minutes for the first time since 2011.
Antoine Griezmann meanwhile could only contribute nine goals and four assists despite playing the fourth-most minutes in the squad and with the rest of Messi’s attacking support coming from 33-year-old Arturo Vidal and 17 years old and Ansu Fati there’s little prospect of a rapid improvement in the near future, by comparison, Messi’s leading suitors Man City extract the maximum possible value from their attacking lineup Raheem Sterling once criticized for his finishing has hit over 20 goals in all competitions for three years running
, and if you take out penalties is on 54 league strikes since 2017 just two behind Luis Suarez in fact all eight city attackers at least matched Griezmann’s mark of 13 goals and assists in the prem last season bar Phil Foden who only played 900 minutes of those four were involved in over 20 goals while at Barcelona Neymar is the only player besides Suarez and Messi to do that in the last six years all this can reassure Messi that if he did make the switch to manchester he’d have both targets for his incredible creative passing and providers to give him more chances and with Kevin De Bruyne laying on 4.2 key passes per game last season more than anyone Messi has played within his entire spell at Barcelona there’s even the possibility that the greatest of all time could find another gear.
having won 10 titles four champions leagues and an overall 33 trophies in his time at the camp now Messi seems to have achieved everything possible in the club game but there may yet be scope for improvement at the international level Messi’s career has been full of disappointment despite appearing in three Copa America finals and one World Cup final he has never got his hands on a trophy with the Albiceleste while his greatest rival Cristiano Ronaldo was able to end a similar hoodoo with victory at Euro 2016. given Messi’s age, it’s possible that the 2021 Copa America and 2022 World Cup will be his last chances to fill this space in his trophy cabinet,
but after an elongated 2019-20 season in which his team was more reliant on him than ever, another tough campaign could prevent him reaching his best level when it counts laugh has made over 30 league appearances in every season since 2007-088
and with the Christmas break likely to be shortened he could well burn out unless he moves to a team which can afford to rotate and give him a rest like Man City or Paris Saint-Germain for example but it doesn’t just triumph with the national team which could affect Messi’s decision critics of the Argentinian have often pointed out that despite his immense talent he also got lucky coming of age at one of the biggest clubs in the world during a golden generation with an outstanding coach,
again Ronaldo has the advantage here winning Champions Leagues with two different clubs and domestic titles with three while Messi has never had to adapt to a different league or other teammates if he moved to PSG or Man City Messi could change all that proving he can do it on a wet night at Sheffield United and help aside win their first Champions League title in the process inscribing his name in the folklore of a second major club already immortal in Catalonia Messi has nothing left to prove to the barter faithful but in leaving he can end the greatest of all time debate once and for all
so those are reasons why Messi might want to leave Barcelona but why might he want to stay.