BARCELONA – Lionel Messi’s aborted escape from Barcelona was the big summer transfer saga but the Argentine was quick to acknowledge that while he wanted to walk away, he must give his all for the team’s cause this season.
Barcelona have started the campaign well under new coach Ronald Koeman, but Messi is yet to get off the mark from open play and has not been at his best in a false nine role.
For the first time in well over a decade, it has looked like Messi is not the essential figure in a side which is younger and fresher than it was last season.
The Koeman era is only three games old and four matches in the upcoming fortnight, starting with the visit to face Getafe on Saturday in La Liga, will be a big test of both the Dutchman and his plan for Messi.
Barcelona then host Ferencvaros in their Champions League opener before welcoming Real Madrid in the Clasico on October 24, and then travelling to face Juventus.
The Juventus clash will pit Messi against former rival Cristiano Ronaldo – provided Ronaldo is negative again for the coronavirus by then – and the Argentine will want to arrive at that match in his finest form.
Messi scored from the penalty spot against Villarreal in Barcelona’s first match of the season, before failing to score against Celta Vigo and Sevilla.
The forward is operating as a false nine, like he did in his best ever goalscoring season, 2011-12, when he netted 73 goals in 60 games. However he no longer has the immense pace he used to boast and in the first few games Messi has moved out of the area, coming deep to start plays but not finish them.
“His discontent with the club was clear, but in the end it worked out and from the moment he said it (I’ll stay this season), he’s done everything expected of him,” Koeman told Dutch broadcasters NOS on Monday.
With Barcelona, fifth, failing to sign a forward in the transfer window, despite coming close to landing Memphis Depay, in the short-term it seems Messi is poised to continue playing up front.
Antoine Griezmann poses another problem for Koeman, with the Frenchman yet to get off the mark this season.
The forward, who joined last summer from Atletico Madrid for 120 million euros (141 million dollars), is proving a disappointing signing, and may be dropped for young winger Trincao.
The coach has picked the same starting line up for all three league games thus far, with one enforced change aside – Ronald Araujo in for the suspended Clement Lenglet in the 1-1 draw at Sevilla.
Spanish newspaper Diario Sport reported Trincao, Sergio Dest and Miralem Pjanic were likely to start against Getafe.
“The club thought we had to make the team younger and that you can see now in the group,” added Koeman.
“Ansu Fati plays, he’s 17, we have Pedri, 17, Ronald Araujo is 21, Trincao is 20, and we signed Sergino Dest, 19. These are players for the future.”
Getafe, seventh, have two wins from four games but their last outing was a disappointing 3-0 defeat by a rampant Real Sociedad at Anoeta.
Earlier on Saturday Real Madrid welcome Cadiz and Celta Vigo host Atletico Madrid.
The weekend’s other fixtures are: Granada v Sevilla, Eibar v Osasuna, Athletic Bilbao v Levante, Villarreal v Valencia, Huesca v Real Valladolid, Alaves v Elche and Real Betis v Real Sociedad.