Things have not been this bad for Barcelona in a long time.
Last night was the 36th meeting between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo - the best two players of this generation (and potentially ever). They have been the faces of world football for over a decade, competing every year for championships and personal honours.
The meetings between Messi and Ronaldo have become less frequent since Ronaldo left Madrid at the end of the 2018 season. For Ronaldo, the move to Juventus provided cheaper taxes, a style of play suited to an older body and still the chance to play for one of the best teams in Europe and compete for major honours each year.
In a similar fashion, Messi also requested to leave his club after 17 years of service. However, due to a clause in his contract, by the time the delayed season was over due to COVID, a club would have had to pay Messi’s £630m release clause to get him. Rather than go through a messy court battle (something Messi knows all too well), Messi opted to play out the final year on his contract at Barcelona. The looming departure of Messi at the season’s end coupled with a struggling coach and tension with management must be hard to ignore for a team, and it’s definitely showing in their performance.
Barcelona lost three goals to nil to Juventus last night at the Camp Nou. It was Messi’s first time ever losing by three goals at the Camp Nou (since Messi has started playing at Barcelona, they have only lost one other game by 3 goals at Camp Nou, which was against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final in 2013, but Messi did not play). It was also the first time ever that Barcelona conceded two goals in the first 20 minutes of a Champions League match. To hold on to first spot in the group, Barcelona just had to avoid losing by three goals, but that was too much to ask. It is the first time in 13 years that Barcelona have not finished at the top of their group. Although they still advance, that is not a real accomplishment considering the other two teams in their group were Dynamo Kyiv and Ferencvárosi TC (who?).
But Barcelona’s issues extend far beyond their Champions League performances.
Barcelona are having their worst start to a La Liga season since Messi debuted in 2004
After 10 games played, Barcelona sit 9th on the table. This is their worst start to the season since Messi began his career in 2004/05. Granted, there are some teams who sit above Barcelona who have played 11 or 12 games but, first place Atletico Madrid have also only played 10 games and are already 12 points ahead of Barcelona!
To put how poorly Barcelona have started this season into perspective, over the last six seasons, Barcelona have averaged 3.8 losses for the entire season. This year they have already recorded four losses with 28 games to go! Maybe they are suffering from the lack of fans, after all having 100,000 supporters at Camp Nou can’t hurt.
In addition to their worst table position after 10 games, they have also recorded:
Their lowest points total after 10 games (14). The second lowest came in 2005/06, when Messi was 18 and Barca recorded 19 points.
Equal lowest number of goals after 10 games (20). That’s an average of two goals a game with world-class strikers such as Messi, Griezmann and Dembélé.
Worst goal difference after 10 games (+9). This is 93% lower than their average goal difference over the first 10 games in the last 15 seasons.
Messi is having his slowest start to the season since he was a teenager
Messi is having one of his least potent starts to a season since he was 19 years old. In 2004/05 and 2005/06 Messi only played 2 games out of the first 10, recording 27 minutes and 116 minutes respectively and no goals. From 2007/08 to 2018/19, Messi was scoring more than a goal every game, on average netting every 89 minutes! In the first 10 games of the last two seasons, his minutes per goal has nearly doubled to 180 minutes per goal in 2019/20 and 168 minutes per goal in 2020/21.
Messi saw the writing on the wall before the season started and wanted out. After being humiliated by Ronaldo and Juventus last night, Messi must be wondering what could have been if he was able to manoeuvre his way out like Ronaldo did. For the last decade and a half, the weight of one of the biggest football clubs in the world has been on Messi’s small but mighty shoulders. But with the current state of the team and the sour relationship between Messi and Barcelona management, things may get worse before they get better.
Do you think Barcelona will have their lowest finish this year in La Liga since Messi first game?
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