How Barcelona lost Neymar – but retained their greatness
3. It’s Jordi Alba’s flank now
I've recovered my confidence. Now I have the whole flank and that's brilliant for me
You can’t justify losing Neymar as a good thing; there is no silver lining. The Brazilian is elite at what he does and no matter how you spin it, losing him was... well, bad. But if you’re a club such as Barcelona, you extract as much as you can in return: an influx of cash, new opportunities and a flank all to Jordi Alba. It’s like when your older sibling moves out, so you no longer have to share a room.
"I've recovered my confidence. Now I have the whole flank and that's brilliant for me,” Alba said of Neymar’s departure and the newfound freedom he’s enjoyed on the left. “I feel comfortable, I have a lot of energy and that's being shown on the pitch."
Barcelona average the fewest amount of crosses per game in La Liga (11). They also use their left flank for 33% of their attacks – the second-lowest mark in Spain. But that’s more indicative of their diverse approach: they rely on Messi’s roaming, but also balance their build-up through multiple channels. Despite what those statistics suggest, Alba is still instrumental. He's a constant outlet, provides darting runs and is tied with (you guessed it) Messi for the highest assists within the team.
4. Messi the manhandler
Messi almost makes every other point here superfluous in comparison. It’s he who’s carrying the team, and the Argentine is on a statistical rampage this season. Neymar is gone, Luis Suarez looks a shadow of himself right now, yet Messi is manhandling opponents. In 15 starts, Barcelona's star man has scored 16 goals and contributed five assists. He also leads the team in key passes and completed dribbles per game.
Barça fans will be relieved that Messi’s contract was finally renewed, and his buyout clause has soared – so no ugly repeats of the Neymar fiasco, then.
"It's a new contract that we have signed today, because although the one we signed in June was up to par with his greatness as a player, the new one is more in line with the current situation in the ever-changing world of football," boss Valverde said after Messi’s renewal was made official. "The buyout clause had to be modified, and it has gone from €300m to €700m."
Enough to put off even PSG or Manchester City from trying to trigger it, you might imagine.