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Barcelona have a Messi problem… and they simply can't do without him

Despite the headline figures, the Barca captain is far from his best at the moment with reports that he is performing while carrying a knock

Barcelona have a Lionel Messi problem.

They have lots of other problems too, but this is perhaps the most difficult to solve. The problem is that Messi is their one and only solution, and when the Argentine is not 100 percent fit, they still have to turn to him, as they did once again against Real Sociedad on Saturday.

Messi’s 81st-minute penalty split the sides in a nervy encounter at Camp Nou. It was a match that emphasised how important he is to Barcelona and showed they are over-reliant and over-using him.

Often when times are hard the diminutive genius is summoned to ease the burden. He did it a few weeks ago against Eibar when he scored four goals, sucking out the venom from Camp Nou as fans complained about the board.

President Josep Maria Bartomeu came under fire again here with fans singing for him to resign, while Quique Setien’s assistant Eder Sarabia was given vocal support too. The coach had angered players after he was spotted lambasting Barcelona’s Clasico performance on the sideline at the Santiago Bernabeu last weekend, but supporters backed his foul-mouthed critiques of Gerard Pique, Antoine Griezmann and others.

In the first half Barcelona’s only threat was emergency signing Martin Braithwaite, and without being rude to the Danish hitman, that speaks volumes about the state of this side. Braithwaite twice was denied by Real Sociedad goalkeeper Alex Remiro, played through on goal both times by Messi. Then the striker had a goal ruled out for offside.

His willing running was a boon for the Barcelona №10, who could play through balls all day. And it’s especially important at the moment, with Messi seeming physically incapable of his trademark dribbling exploits.

Of course over the past few years he has slowed a little, as is only natural when approaching his 33rd birthday, but he has adapted his game to maintain his influence. Reports say that since January Messi has been carrying a minor thigh problem, which, while not enough to keep him off the pitch, is not letting him dominate to his usual extent.

Barcelona should let Messi rest, but they cannot.

With the league table so tight — this game taking them ahead of Real Madrid by two points before their rivals face Real Betis on Sunday — all matches are crucial.

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