It doesn’t sound possible, does it?
That the mighty Barcelona – five-time Champions League winners and one of the most prestigious clubs in football history – are actually a one-man team.
You look at their squad and aside from you know who, there’s several players you could make a case for being world class.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Arturo Vidal, Ousmane Dembele, Antoine Griezmann, Luis bloody Suarez!
It’s a pool of talent deep enough for scuba diving.
And yet, without their inspirational No10, Barca are fallible.
Here’s the harsh truth: Barcelona have won only one of their last eight games without Lionel Messi.
For a club of their standing, a win percentage of 12.5% is nothing short of disastrous.
Critics of the great Argentine forward have often claimed his legacy has been enhanced by virtue of playing club football exclusively for Barcelona.
The implication being it’s easy to look good when you’ve got elite team-mates for company.
And while there’s logic to such reasoning, reality has often rendered it invalid.
The form table suggests Barcelona need Messi more than he needs them.
Let’s rewind a little further.
You may remember in 2017/18, the Catalan giants were two games away from completing an invincible season.
In the penultimate game week, Barca rested Messi for a trip to 15th-placed Levante because they had a midweek friendly with Mamelodi Sundowns.
The club had agreed to play the non-competitive fixture in South Africa before the end of the season to commemorate Nelson Mandela, with Messi supposedly contracted to play.
Without their 34-goal top scorer, Barca lost the plot at Levante and were defeated 5-4 in a nonsensical thriller.
We can’t say for sure whether Messi would have prevented the loss but it’s telling that Barca were undefeated in 100% of the league games he played in, and lost 50% of the matches he missed that season.
Every club in the world is worse off without their best player but the difference in Barca’s results with and without Messi is exaggerated.
Just look at how Man City coped without Kevin De Bruyne for much of last season, or Spurs’ results when Harry Kane is injured, for examples of teams adapting to the loss of their best individual.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s absence has revealed what more than a few have suspected about Ernesto Valverde’s side — his brilliance has papered over the cracks.
Cracks than Liverpool exposed in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final.
Cracks that Valencia widened in the Copa del Rey final.
Cracks that Athletic Bilbao and Osasuna have probed at the start of this season.
As far as one-man teams go, a Messi-inspired Barca is pretty good.
But considering the attributes of the other individuals in their squad, their form shouldn’t depend so drastically on the great man.
He won’t be around forever…