Lionel Messi injury: Can Barcelona cope without the Argentina international?
With Barcelona already qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League and facing an easier La Liga run of games, Messi's hamstring injury could be a blessing in disguise
Barcelona will be without the talismanic Lionel Messi until January 2014 after the forward was ruled out for 6-8 weeks with a hamstring strain that he picked up early on during the 4-1 victory over Real Betis on Sunday.
There were already concerns over Messi’s recent performances, having gone five La Liga games since he last scored – his worst run in the Spanish top flight for nearly six years after he went eight games without scoring between December 1 2007 and February 24 2008.
His phenomenal goal record over recent years has seen Barcelona cement their place as a European powerhouse to be feared, although they were given a firm setback last season when Bayern Munich dispatched them 7-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-finals. Messi wasn’t fully fit for either leg, and it showed as the Catalan side looked to be missing any sense of direction in the way they played.
So how influential has he been in 2013? If you take a look at the stats, they should get by just fine without him. Astonishingly, Barcelona have won every single game in 2013 that they have played without Messi, having played and won nine times this year without the 26-year-old.
With him in the side, that figure drops rather dramatically to 61.9 per cent - winning 26 out of 42 competitive matches this season – in which he has scores 39 goals along the way. In comparison, Messi had notched 79 goals for his club in the whole of 2012, whereas he will end this calendar year with 45 goals, a drop of over half of his 91 total goals the year before.
With Messi ruled out for up to two months, Barcelona head coach Gerardo Martino will need to turn to Plan B in the hope that they don’t relinquish their unbeaten start to the season. They won’t have to worry about the immediate future though with the international break set to take centre stage, and return to action on November 23 when they take on Granada.
They then face their final two Champions League group matches against Ajax and Celtic, with a La Liga clash with Athletic Bilbao and the Copa Del Rey tie with Cartagena sandwiched in-between. With the Spanish league champions already qualified from Group H, and Martino likely to deploy a fringe and youth side in the cup, these games will not pose too much of a problem in terms of competing without Messi.
They then face a rather simple schedule that sees them take on Villarreal, Cartagena again and Getafe before the winter break kicks in, and Messi will be targeting a return in the first game of the New Year when Barcelona host Elche on January 4.
Even without Messi, Martino will be expectant of his side to at least remain unbeaten through those matches, and having the addition of Neymar this season should ensure that any issues caused by Messi’s absence are minimalised thanks to the Brazilian star.
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