Ernesto Valverde‘s Barcelona were often criticised for being over reliant on Lionel Messi for goals and assists, yet since Quique Setien‘s arrival the Argentine has actually moved a little further back in terms of his positioning.
Setien‘s style is centred around ball rotation and this has seen Messi drop into deeper positions to receive the ball, although this may well prove to be problematic when you consider the lack of attacking options at the club at this moment.
“I’m going back a bit more now, trying to get involved more,” Messi admitted in an interview with Mundo Deportivo.
“I try to come into the game.
“I want to have more of the ball and to create an overload in the middle of the pitch.”
Heat maps of the Argentine’s performances since Setien took charge contrast wildly with those from the Valverde era.
We’ve seen more contact with the ball just ahead of the halfway line, which was highlighted most in the match against Getafe.
Messi dropped even further back, receiving the ball in his own half a lot, mainly due to the intense high pressure put on the hosts by Getafe.
In the seven matches since the former Real Betis coach arrived, Messi has been playing more as a natural No.10 than a false nine, while dropping deeper has helped free space for Antoine Griezmann through the middle.
Frenkie de Jong or Arturo Vidal can then bomb forward and try to create situations where Los Cules outnumber a defence, although there is a risk that this style could actually turn Messi into more of a creator than a goalscorer, something which is generally unthinkable given his career to this point.
Messi hasn’t scored in the last four matches, although he has provided six assists in the last three matches.
Yet, the Barcelona captain has downplayed the importance of statistics.
“I’ve had chances in these matches and haven’t been able to convert,” Messi added.
“However, this isn’t something that worries me.”
This streak of failing to find the net stretches back 31 shots in total, something that hasn’t happened to Messi since the 2013/14 season.
Barcelona‘s Champions League campaign restarts with a last-16 tie against Napoli, with the first leg coming in Naples, and it is somewhat concerning for the Blaugrana that Messi is heading into this tie without a good run of goals behind him, because they can’t win the tournament without him at his best.