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The Argentine ace has been absent for over half of the Catalans' total playing time so far this term - but it has made virtually no difference to their conversion in front of goal

ANALYSIS
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Gerardo Martino always answers with the same sentence. When asked if his Barcelona side are missing Lionel Messi, he replies: "Of course we do - any team would miss the best player in the world." And it's a valid argument. However, statistics show Barca have scored at a similar rate all season - with or without their finest footballer.

Messi made a triumphant return to first-team action on Wednesday as he hit two goals in a cameo appearance after coming on as a second-half subsititute in the 4-0 win at home to Getafe in the Copa del Rey.

That took his tally to 16 in 17 games (of Barca's 29 this term) although, in total, the 26-year-old has featured for fewer than half his side's minutes in 2013-14.

BARCA WITH & WITHOUT MESSI

 BARCELONA WITH MESSI
TOTAL MESSI MINUTES
TOTAL GOALS
GOALS PER MINUTE
TOTAL GAMES PLAYED
GAMES WON
GAMES LOST
1196
37
32.32
17
13
0
BARCELONA WITHOUT MESSI
TOTAL MINUTES WITHOUT MESSI
TOTAL GOALS
GOALS PER MINUTE
TOTAL GAMES PLAYED
GAMES WON
GAMES LOST
1414
44
32.14
12
10
2
Leo has been on the pitch for a total of 1,196 minutes, during which time Barca have netted 37 times in all, with Messi responsible for 16 of those. And overall, those 37 strikes have come, on average, at one every 32.32 minutes.

By contrast, with Messi missing (1,414 minutes in total), Martino's men have netted 44 times at a rate of one every 32.14 minutes - an almost identical average to when the Argentine is playing. In fact, it's even slightly better.

However, the 26-year-old was absent for the two Copa del Rey clashes against lower-league Cartagena (which yielded seven goals), as well as the 6-1 Champions League romp at home to Celtic, while he did feature in arguably the toughest fixtures of the season for the Catalan club: the Spanish Supercopa series against Atletico and the Clasico at home to Real Madrid.

In addition, Barca's only two defeats so far this term both came in November, when Messi was sidelined through injury, with the Argentine absent in the 2-1 loss at Ajax and the 1-0 reverse at Athletic Bilbao several days later.

Next up for the Catalans is a trip to Atletico in a top-of-the-table clash in La Liga on Saturday and, even though the four-time Ballon d'Or winner limped off the last time he featured at the Vicente Calderon and statistics show Barca are actually no better off with him in the team, his return to full fitness is a significant boost ahead of what is probably their toughest test so far this season.

With or without Messi, Barca score every 32 minutes but, given the choice, they'd always rather he was in the team. As Martino says, any side would miss the best in the world, and in games like Saturday's, it is when the finest footballers are needed most - whatever the stats say.

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