Lionel Messi-led FC Barcelona’s defensive solidity has kept them as one of the three unbeaten teams in domestic as well as UEFA Champions League alongside Neymar’s Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.(Getty Images)
Lionel Messi-led FC Barcelona’s defensive solidity has kept them as one of the three unbeaten teams in domestic as well as UEFA Champions League alongside Neymar’s Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.(Getty Images)

Lionel Messi blames Neymar departure for FC Barcelona’s defensive style

FC Barcelona have conceded only six goals in their 19 games this season, having played opponents such as Atletico Madrid, Juventus (in the UEFA Champions League) and Valenica, who are currently placed second in the La Liga
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, Mumbai
UPDATED ON NOV 28, 2017 04:26 PM IST

FC Barcelona ace Lionel Messi has said that it was the shock departure of Brazilian star Neymar that prompted new manager Ernesto Valverde to adapt to a slightly more defensive style of play as opposed to the team’s conventional, attacking game.

FC Barcelona have conceded only six goals in their 19 games this season, having played opponents such as Atletico Madrid, Juventus (in the Champions League) and Valenica, who are currently placed second in the La Liga.

Their defensive solidarity has kept them as one of the three unbeaten teams in the domestic as well as in UEFA Champions League. Neymar’s Paris Saint Germain and former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City are the other two teams in the special club.

“The departure of Neymar has led to a change in our game,” Messi revealed to German magazine Kicker as part of an interview with European Sports Media. “Although we lost a lot of clout in attack, we are better sorted on the defensive. The midfield is now clearer, there is a better balance. That has made us defensively stronger.”

Messi, while acknowledging PSG and City’s current form as a threat to Barcelona’s European plans, also named arch-rivals Real Madrid and German champions Bayern Munich as other dangerious opponents.

“City is one of the strongest teams so far, together with PSG. But, the season is still very long. I never overlook Real Madrid for its class and experience, even though they are not currently achieving the results that are expected. Or Bayern Munich. Bayern are the other big team that will be ready at the end of the season,” Messi said.

However, Real have not been in the ping of form this season. The European champions have drawn three and lost two of their 13 games in La Liga this term, are placed fourth, eight points behind Barcelona.

But Messi believes that given their squad strength and history, Real will be bounce back and fight for all the titles on offer.

“That it’s just a snapshot. It is not the first time that we see a club like Real in such a situation. In the end they will be back and fight for every title. Because of the squad they have. Because of the players who have them. And because it always was like this,” added Messi.

Also, speaking of his relationship with Real’s Portuguese talisman Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi said: “I do not know if we will be friends. Friendship is born and grows by spending time together and getting to know each other properly. We have no relation to each other, mainly because we only see each other at awards ceremonies and then that’s the only time we talk to each other. Everything is fine, but our ways of life do not intersect very often.”

Messi and Ronaldo have dominated the world of football for over a decade now -- the duo having split between themselves the last ten individual awards for best player in the world. But Messi, who recently won his fourth Golden Boot award has labelled teammate Luis Suarez, Neymar, PSG’s Kylian Mbappe as serious contenders for the award in the future.

“There are many great players in the world who can win these awards. For the past few years, we’ve both been there, but now players like Neymar, Kylian Mbappé and Luis Suarez are serious contenders for these awards,” opined Messi.

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