Barcelona, Oct 23 (AFP) Barcelona’s lowest ebbs are invariably followed by questions about Lionel Messi but the issue of over-reliance may become clearer over the coming weeks.
Hands behind heads, fingers over mouths, the concern became real shortly after the final whistle when the club confirmed Messi had fractured his radial bone.
His absence leaves Barca vulnerable when they need him most, for a run of fixtures that includes Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday, the Clasico against Real Madrid on Sunday, before a return match against Inter in Italy at the start of next month.
If he takes longer than expected to recover, he could miss tricky games against Real Betis and Atletico Madrid in La Liga too.
Barcelona have grown used to accusations of dependence, not least when results have taken a turn for the worse.
“This is Barcelona,” Messi afterwards.
“We have a strong team and we have enough not to have to depend on one player.”
He played the entirety of the Champions League collapse against Roma but then the criticism was Barca had failed to find the answer when Messi had not provided it.
There is no team in the world that would not look worse with Messi extracted.
– ‘Casting for replacements’ –
“Emotionally we know when Messi is there he gives us more confidence because he is the best in the world,” Pique said on Saturday.
On Monday, Marca listed six options in a “casting for replacements” – Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha, Munir El Haddadi, Malcom, Carles Alena and Sergi Roberto.
But Dembele is the most obvious. Messi’s position on the right of the front three is where he is most comfortable, rather than off the left, where the 21-year-old has often been made to adapt so far.
After a debut season blighted by injuries, Dembele started the first six games of this one, scoring five goals.
When Barca went three matches without a win, he was dropped.
“He still needs to learn,” Valverde said last weekend.
It would be a surprise if Dembele was not at least given the chance at Camp Nou against Inter, who are level on points with Barca in Group B, having also beaten PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham.
“It is a pity,” said Mauro Icardi. “And a big blow for them