Barca need hero to fill big boots

Sports | 24 Oct 2018

Barcelona's lowest ebbs are invariably followed by questions about Lionel Messi, but the issue of over-reliance may become clearer in the coming weeks.

The sight of Messi on the ground with a fractured right arm during Barca's win over Sevilla last weekend prompted reactions inside the Nou Camp normally reserved for conceding goals.

His absence leaves Barca vulnerable when they need him most - for a run of fixtures that includes Inter Milan in the Champions League tomorrow (HK time), the Clasico against Real Madrid on Sunday and then a return match against Inter in Italy at the start of next month.

If the Argentinian 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.

There is no team in the world that would not look worse with Messi extracted.

As Real Madrid are proving in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, a striker's goals are difficult to replace but so is an aura.

To maintain a resurgence built on wins over Tottenham and Sevilla as well as a draw at Valencia, Barca coach Ernesto Valverde must find a solution. Monday saw six options in a casting for replacements - Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha, Munir El Haddadi, Malcom, Carles Alena and Sergi Roberto.

Alena, a 20-year-old midfielder, is an exciting talent, while Malcom, a year older, scored 12 goals for Bordeaux last season.

Dembele is the most obvious. Messi's position on the right of the front three is where Dembele is most comfortable, though the 21-year-old has often been made to work on the left.

After a debut season blighted by injuries, Dembele started the first six games of this one, scoring five goals. But doubts remain about him in big games, and when Barca went three matches without a win he was dropped.

Still, it would be a surprise if Dembele was not at least given the chance at the Nou Camp against Inter, who are level on points with Barca in Group B after also beating PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham.

Second place might have been the limit of Inter's ambitions when the draw was made, but with Messi out they can see an opportunity to go one better.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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