The football chattering classes in Spain are all agreed and have their sporting kittens in line. There are only two approaches for Luis Enrique in dealing with a Messi-less two months: the coach either needs to stick by Barcelona’s tactical principles and shape whatever players he has left into the signature 4-3-3 formation, or be a little more flexible with the team lowering itself to a more vulgar 4-4-2.
For Miguel Rico, writing in Mundo Deportivo, everyone is going to have to weigh in to fill the giant Messi Void, rather than one individual. “No team-mate playing at his highest level for eight consecutive weeks can do what Messi does on the pitch,” says Rico. “Instead, it's the team that has to have the quality to limit the damage.” Rico, firmly in the ‘collective camp’. The front cover of Tuesday’s Sport has Neymar and Luis Suárez in full celebration, with a nudge that it's up to this pair to deal with the Messi Void. “Neymar needs to take a step forward,” writes Josep Maria Casanovas, “show the value of his class and become more consistent in his game.” The Sport man siding himself with the ‘Neymarists’.
Live and Let Live
But for the contrary La Liga Loca, how Barça deal with Messi will depend on the manner in which the team deals with the Argentine’s absence before Tuesday’s Champions League clash with Bayer Leverkusen.
Again, there are two approaches for Enrique. One method would be to repeat how Brazil handled Neymar’s back injury ahead of the World Cup clash against Germany – to pretty much repeat the funeral procession scene from Live and Let Die by holding his shirt aloft and openly weep his loss.
The Barça players may well trot out onto the pitch holding aloft the Boot of Messi which contains his spirit, and then rub it all over Munir. However, the Camp Nou comrades should remember that Messi gets to put his feet up for a solid two months, have a rest, watch Neymar fall out of favour heavily and spend quality time with his new child. And the talisman doesn’t have to turn out for Argentina next week either, something the blog is sure will pain him enormously. And also, the Live and Let Die approach didn't end so well for Brazil, if LLL remembers correctly. Enrique might want to go with the polar opposite approach: all photos of Messi removed from the stadium, images airbrushed from old games and no mentions of him allowed by the squad under pains of having to spend two hours alone in a traffic jam with Gerard Piqué.
Get over it
While there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the absence of Messi for two months, Barcelona do still have two forwards worth about €100 billion each. That is two more than pretty much every other club in the world, which has to schlub along with the likes of Oliver Giroud leading the line.
Barça might also want to look over to Mordor and see that Real Madrid have been handling having Cristiano Ronaldo AWOL for all but one game since the end of last season and are still hanging on in there. As much as the Messi Void may be felt for a few minutes on Tuesday, the club should remember that they are feeling what are very much footballing first-world problems and will need to get over themselves fast.
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