Can Barcelona shine without their star man Lionel Messi?

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Out for at least three weeks, now we are about to find out how Barca will fare without their talisman. (AFP)
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Updated 23 October 2018
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Can Barcelona shine without their star man Lionel Messi?

  • Barca's first test without their main man is against Inter Milan at home in the Champions League on Wednesday.
  • Catalans will look to Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha and Malcom, to step up in his absence.

BARCELONA: Barcelona’s lowest ebbs are invariably followed by questions about Lionel Messi but the issue of over-reliance may become clearer over the coming weeks.
The sight of Messi on the ground, grasping his right arm, during Barca’s win over Sevilla on Saturday prompted reactions inside the Non Camp normally reserved for the conceding of goals.
Hands behind heads, fingers over mouths, the concern became real shortly after the final whistle when the club confirmed Messi had fractured his radial bone.
His absence leaves Barca vulnerable when they need him most, for a run of fixtures that includes Inter Milan in the Champions League on Wednesday, the Clasico against Real Madrid on Sunday, before a return match against Inter in Italy at the start of next month.
If he takes longer than expected to recover, he could miss tricky games against Real Betis and Atletico Madrid in La Liga too.

Argentine ace Messi was in agony as soon as he hit the turf — he will be out for as many as six matches. 


Barcelona have grown used to accusations of dependence, not least when results have taken a turn for the worse.
When Ernesto Valverde left Messi on the bench for the 1-1 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao last month, the argument was given added weight by him coming on and making the assist for their equalizer.
“This is Barcelona,” Messi said afterwards. “We have a strong team and we have enough not to have to depend on one player.”
The same point was raised last season, when Messi, as a substitute, inspired a late fightback from two goals down against Sevilla and scored in the 89th minute.
He played the entirety of the Champions League collapse against Roma but then the criticism was Barca had failed to find the answer when Messi had not provided it.
There is no team in the world that would not look worse with Messi extracted.

‘CASTING FOR REPLACEMENTS’

As Real Madrid are proving in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, a striker’s goals are difficult to replace but so too is the aura.
“Emotionally we know when Messi is there he gives us more confidence because he is the best in the world,” Pique said on Saturday. “But it does not have to affect us.”
To maintain a resurgence built on wins over Tottenham and Sevilla, as well as a draw away to Valencia, Valverde will have to find the solution.

Can Ousmane Dembele raise his game in the absence of Messi? 


On Monday, Marca listed six options in a “casting for replacements” — Ousmane Dembele, Rafinha, Munir El-Haddadi, Malcom, Carles Alena and Sergi Roberto.
Alena, the 20-year-old midfielder, is an exciting talent, while Malcom, only a year older, scored 12 goals for Bordeaux last season.
But Dembele is the most obvious. Messi’s position on the right of the front three is where he is most comfortable, rather than off the left, where the 21-year-old has often been made to adapt so far.
After a debut season blighted by injuries, Dembele started the first six games of this one, scoring five goals.
But doubts remain about him in big games, where his habit for losing possession can be punished by opponents quick in transition and clinical on the counter-attack.
When Barca went three matches without a win, he was dropped. “He is not yet fully aware of what it means to play at the highest level,” said France coach Didier Deschamps last month. “He still needs to learn,” Valverde said last weekend.
It would be a surprise if Dembele was not at least given the chance at Camp Nou against Inter, who are level on points with Barca in Group B, having also beaten PSV Eindhoven and Tottenham.
Second place might have been the limit of Inter’s ambitions when the draw was made but with Messi out, they might spy an opportunity. “It is a pity,” said Mauro Icardi. “And a big blow for them.”


New Zealand coach Stead expects tougher contest in second Test against Pakistan  

Updated 23 min 3 sec ago
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New Zealand coach Stead expects tougher contest in second Test against Pakistan  

  • New Zealand pulled off an extraordinary four-run win in Abu Dhabi on Monday as they defended a modest target of 176
  • It was the fifth tightest win in terms of runs in the 141-year history of Test cricket

DUBAI: Two days after one of the most sensational wins in Test cricket, New Zealand are preparing in Dubai for the second Test against Pakistan with coach Gary Stead expecting an even tougher contest.
New Zealand pulled off an extraordinary four-run win in Abu Dhabi on Monday as they defended a modest target of 176. Debutant left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel took 5-59 as Pakistan's last seven wickets fell for just 41 runs.
It was the fifth tightest win in terms of runs in the 141-year history of Test cricket.
The win was Stead's first as head coach since he replaced Mike Hesson in August and he believes it will change Pakistan's mindset ahead of the second Test which starts on Saturday.
"Pakistan are a good team, hard to beat over here," said Stead. "That's what makes this really, really pleasing. But they'll be better for it, and if they were taking us lightly, they won't be now.
"I expect them to be better and I expect us to be better as well."
New Zealand have not beaten Pakistan in an away series since 1969 and Stead thinks they need further improvement in order to change that.
"I don't think we've won too many Tests when we've scored 153 in the first innings," said Stead of New Zealand's first innings total.
"It was always going to be that we need to keep fighting and fighting, and my message to the boys was that if you can lose wickets in clumps, then why can't we do that back to them through sustained pressure," said Stead.
Fast bowler Neil Wagner, who became the eighth New Zealand bowler to complete 150 Test wickets in Abu Dhabi, praised the team's spirit.
"It was an amazing fightback," said Wagner. "We knew we'd be in with a chance if we kept fighting. That last hour (on day four) was quite freakish."
Wagner broke the dangerous stand of 82 between Azhar Ali (65) and Asad Shafiq (45) and then claimed Yasir Shah's wicket to play his role.
"We know that even if we are a little bit behind we can keep fighting, we know what we can achieve. It was bloody tough, hard work, a big fight and it will just get harder. (Pakistan) will come back hard.
"Hopefully we can do something similar and pretty special."
Wagner's two wickets in the final innings were put in the shade by Patel whose five-wicket haul landed him the man of the match award in his first Test.
"It was pretty awesome to see a guy like Patel come in in his first Test," said Wagner of the 30-year-old India-born spinner.
"It took me about eight Tests to have my first win, so to play a special part in a win, see a smile on his face, was a cool moment."
The second Test starts in Dubai from Saturday while the third and final, again in Abu Dhabi from December 3.