The story of late-stage Lionel Messi-era Barcelona has been dysfunction.
Messi, as we know, has been displeased with the poorly-built and disorganized Barca side. So far, they’ve had a rough go of it in La Liga, losing four of their 10 games and falling to ninth. Their chances to finish in the top two, much less win the whole thing, are slipping away fast. Messi has been poor by his standards, scoring just two open play goals in 14 combined La Liga and Champions League games.
The difficult start to the season culminated in a 3-0 loss to Juventus in the Champions League group stage. While the game only mattered for seeding purposes in Group G, it was the latest instance of Barcelona being exposed as a deficient side. They will have aspirations to win the UCL, but given their performance against an elite Juventus, it is hard to see that happening.
Barcelona’s issues are obvious
Their issues against Juventus came down to defensive ineptitude and a static one-man attack. Barca dominated play, compiling 20 shot attempts compared to Juve’s eight and finishing with 59 percent possession. Some of that has to do with game states, as Juve scored twice in the first 20 minutes, but Barca had the ball in good areas. They passed around a lot and pressed fairly effectively. Cristiano Ronaldo barely exerted influence on the game, besides converting his two penalty kicks.
Barca mostly looked stagnant around the attacking third, though. No one besides Messi seemed to have any idea how to break down a tight, disciplined defense, and the result was a lot of aimless passing and dispossession. In a way, one could be reminded of the Argentina national team: everyone was just kind of standing around hoping for Messi to create some magic.
This late-career Messi, while still magical, couldn’t finish all the chances he created. Numerous times, he found a shot on his left foot only to hit it right at Gianluigi Buffon or bounce it past the goal. It was an uncharacteristically weak finishing game from Messi, who has been exceptional throughout his career in front of goal. A couple times, he stuck a first-timed ball on his left foot right into Buffon’s chest, blowing a goal he has scored countless times over the years.
Barca can’t be a one-man show
It’s clear that Barca need more than a 33-year-old Messi. The surrounding talents have struggled to come up with answers in the final third. Their possession was aimless, with no true No. 9 up top who could get on the ball and make the runs Barca needs someone to make. Antoine Griezmann has struggled to do much of anything.
American right back Sergino Dest (2026 World Cup final starter!) was frequently a fulcrum on the right back. He didn’t have passing options very often. Barca mostly trafficked in tight-space layoffs and Messi dribbling excursions. When you have Messi, you’ll generate chances doing this. But no one else was skilled enough to prevent those chances from being low-percentage, and when Messi misses shots that he normally doesn’t miss, it’s a recipe for a loss.
Dest looked up to send in crosses a couple of times, and never had any options. While crosses are not a sustainable form of attack, sending aggressive balls into the 18-yard-box in certain situations can be an effective solution against a packed-in defense. No one made the runs for Dest to find, limiting Barca’s offense.
When Barca’s defense makes the mistakes it did against Juventus, including committing two obvious fouls in the box, a completely Messi-dependent attack falls short. Unless they have a plan for finding players who can legitimately contribute to a turnaround, it’s hard to imagine Messi sticking around after this season.