Republic of Messi: After independence, Barcelona have Leo-dependence

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The Argentine popped up all over the pitch in the 2-0 win at San Mames, started the move for the first and also scored in an omnipresent performance

After Catalan independence, Messi-dependence for Barcelona. On Friday, the region officially declared secession from Spain and on Saturday, the Argentine attacker showed why he too is considered different from the rest.

Evergreen striker Aritz Aduriz twice came close to giving Athletic Club the lead in the Basques' first fixture against their former coach Ernesto Valverde, but Barca goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen made two fine saves.

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Perhaps that clicked Lionel Messi into life, because a minute later he dribbled through the home side's defence and looked certain to slot the ball into the net, only to hit the post. It was an uncharacteristic mistake from the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, although he himself had created the opening with his remarkable run.

Barca were playing in fits and starts, but everything seemed to blossom at the feet of Messi. And after his earlier miss, he made amends by starting and finishing a majestic move.

Messi advanced, passed to Paulinho, got the ball back from the Brazilian, then picked out Jordi Alba, continued into the area and was there to drill home from the full-back's cross.

Athletic Barca score

With Andres Iniesta missing through injury, Neymar gone, Luis Suarez badly off form and Ousmane Dembele sidelined, it was all about Messi in this match - just as it has been so often in the past.

In the second half, the Argentine tracked back to help out with defensive duties and his late run ultimately set up the Catalans' second of the night for Paulinho after Suarez saw his shot saved by Kepa Arrizabalaga.

Earlier on Saturday, Tottenham lost to Manchester United without Harry Kane at Old Trafford, while Real Madrid struggled earlier on in the season when Cristiano Ronaldo was handed a five-match domestic suspension. Other top teams are also reliant upon their finest footballers.

Madrid travel to Girona on Sunday in a game that was under threat due to safety concerns after the declaration of independence in Catalunya on Friday and coach Pablo Machin was asked about Ronaldo and Messi ahead of that game.

Lionel Messi Barcelona Bilbao

Lionel Messi Barcelona Bilbao

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"They are two very good footballers and two amazing teams," he said. "But there's a greater dependency on Messi at Barcelona than Cristiano at Madrid." And he added: "When Messi doesn't score, he gives an assist or starts the play."

On Saturday, that is exactly what he did. He started the moves and finished the first, before setting up the second as well. As a playmaker and a forward, he is independent from the rest right now and his fantastic form means Barcelona are untouchable too in La Liga at the moment.

Catalunya might not need Spain to prosper in future, but Barcelona depend on their main man more than ever. Welcome to the Republic of Messi!

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