Barcelona can’t win without Lionel Messi’s magic

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Sep 16, 2019Gabriele MarcottiSenior Writer, ESPN FC There’s lots to talk about in this week’s Monday Musings after a wild weekend. Gab Marcotti is here to recap the big stories around soccer.Jump to: Barca look lost without Messi | Liverpool ‘win ugly’ | Inter add to Milan’s woes | Neymar gets rude welcome | Real rebound in style too | Neymar PSG’s hero again | Man United are a mess | Chelsea’s youth movement | Juve still a work in progress | Stop moaning about VAR! | What’s wrong with Atletico? | Ref gets it right in Italy- Gab and Juls podcast: Barca woes, Chelsea vs. Liverpool, Milan derbyBarcelona look lost unless Messi is fit and in formSeven points from five games, behind in each of them, scoreless in 188 minutes in all competitions, one shot on target: you probably have to go back to last spring to find the last time Barcelona turned in an impressive 90-minute performance.The 2-0 defeat at Granada offered a compendium of what ails this side right now. Antoine Griezmann offers plenty in terms of work rate but isn’t yet a functioning cog in this team. To be fair, he hasn’t been helped by the fact that one of his strike partners, Luis Suarez, started only his first game last week and the guy who’s supposed be his other strike partner, Lionel Messi, has yet to start.The midfield is horrendous right now, whether it’s the Arthur-Frenkie de Jong-Sergio Busquets version most expected to be first choice or the ugly trio we saw Saturday, with Sergi Roberto and Ivan Rakitic joining De Jong. The back line is OK until you remember that Gerard Pique turns 33 in February and his backups are a guy coming off two injury-riddled seasons and injured again (Samuel Umtiti) and a teenager who has started 12 top-flight games in his career, none of them this season (Jean-Clair Todibo).Poor squad construction? Sure. We’ve been through this even before you get into the mad chase for Neymar, absurdly played out in public in the dying days of the transfer window. De Jong and Griezmann probably will come good, but having signed them early, it’s as if they took the rest of the summer off. Ansu Fati dropped out of the sky to get everybody excited, but if you think they knew that was going to happen, well, there’s an unfinished Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona you might be interested in buying.The above might be mitigating factors, but it certainly doesn’t mean that Ernesto Valverde has been exonerated, either. Having gone a goal down early, he seemed to hit the panic at half-time, breaking the glass to call upon Messi and Fati. Not a terrible choice in and of itself except it also meant taking off Junior Firpo, making his first start of the campaign in place of injured Jordi Alba.Firpo was directly responsible for Granada’s first goal and had a rough 45 minutes, but it was also a humiliating change, of the sort that can destroy a player’s confidence. What’s more, it caused the usual uncomfortable reshuffle, with Nelson Semedo moving to left-back (not his forte), Sergi Roberto switching from midfield to right-back and a lopsided Barca with no midfield laying a disorderly siege on the Granada goal.That is on Valverde, and it has to be a concern. Two straight years of colossal tactical blunders late in the Champions League knockout round aren’t forgotten around the Camp Nou, nor should they be. Needless to say, having Messi in your team papers over a lot of cracks, and it feels as if this Messi-less early stage of the campaign is some kind of post-apocalyptic glimpse of what this team will be like when (if?) he goes.The fact of the matter is there is more to Barcelona than Messi. But they have to be given a coherent game plan and they have to be made to look like something resembling a team, not a bunch of guys wandering through La Liga waiting for their Messi-ah.That part of the job belongs to the manager.Liverpool ‘win ugly’ to remain perfect in Premier Leagueplay2:02Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens discuss whether L

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