Messi now the only thing between Barcelona and mediocrity

Lionel Messi Barcelona
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Outplayed by Real Madrid in the Supercopa second leg, the Catalans are a pale version of their brilliant best. What must the Argentine be thinking?


Barcelona are a club in complete chaos. Talk before kick-off of a famous comeback or another memorable match at the Santiago Bernabeu always appeared more optimistic than anything else. And on the pitch, the team's worst fears were realised.

With Andres Iniesta out injured and Neymar no longer at the club, the starting XI was the most ordinary of any fielded by the Catalan club in the past 10 years - especially in such an important match. Coach Ernesto Valverde had said in the build-up to this match that his side were not inferior to Real Madrid, yet the teamsheet argued otherwise.

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Valverde, already taking charge of his third Clasico clash in the space of just a few weeks, must wonder what has gone wrong since his side edged out Los Blancos in the first of those, a pre-season friendly encounter in Miami that Barca won 3-2.

Neymar was still at the club then and the Brazilian's departure has rocked Barca. Worse still, with less than two weeks remaining until the transfer window closes, still no replacement has been brought in.

Lionel Messi Real Madrid Barcelona Supercopa 16082017

There is no doubt about it - Barcelona's golden generation is finished now. It had been a gradual decline, but there is little left. In recent years, Lionel Messi has often papered over the cracks when things have not been going well. Now, however, the cracks are gaping holes - and not even the Argentine could inspire his side on Wednesday.

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The 30-year-old equalised for Barca with a fortunate penalty in the first leg at Camp Nou after Luis Suarez had dived, but Real ran out 3-1 winners in that match and here, Marco Asensio blasted home another stunning strike to make it 4-1 on aggregate.

When Karim Benzema added another before half-time, it was no surprise either. By the end of the opening 45 minutes, Barcelona had attempted only one shot, their fewest in any match in 2017. And they really were that bad.

Valverde must take responsibility for a starting XI that included the unpopular Andre Gomes and also Javier Mascherano in an untested 3-5-2 formation which left the defence looking particularly uncomfortable. Perhaps an away match against the Spanish and European champions was not the place for experiments, however, and Barca looked more surprised than their rivals by the new system.

Marco Asensio Carvajal Modric Real Madrid Barcelona Supercopa 16082017 Luka Modric Ivan Rakitic Real Madrid Barcelona Supercopa 16082017

The Catalans were better in a second half that kicked off after midnight in the summer heat and Messi rattled the bar. The Argentine always looked his side's most likely source of inspiration, but the team were really only playing for pride now. Madrid, meanwhile, were already looking ahead to the start of La Liga this weekend - and Los Blancos will start as huge favourites for the title.

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Suarez seems to have slowed down, while Iniesta is in what will probably be his final season, Neymar should have been Barca's future but is now in the club's past and there is little more in the way of star quality at the Catalan club. Paulinho may yet turn out to be a decent signing for the Blaugrana but the Brazilian is not an arrival that has excited fans that had been hoping to see Marco Verratti brought in this summer.

All in all, this Barcelona team looks like their worst since 2007-08, the last season before Pep Guardiola came in to revolutionise an underperforming team. As Gerard Pique confessed afterwards, "In the nine years I've been here, it's the first time I've felt inferior to Madrid."

The defender was just 21 when he rejoined his childhood team, the same age as Messi. Both are now 30, with the Argentine having only signed a new contract earlier this summer.

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On the evidence of both legs of the Supercopa, however, Messi must be wondering if he has made the right decision, while his release clause of €250m would be a big concern for Barca if he were just a few years younger.

Most matches will be easier for the Blaugrana than Real Madrid away, but it was on these tests that the brilliant Barcelona team earned their reputation as the world's best, winning 6-2, 4-0 and more recently 3-2 at the Bernabeu.

Now, though, only Messi is separating them from mediocrity.