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Can Lionel Messi Return To Heights Under Luis Enrique?

Lionel Messi enjoyed one of the most successful periods in his career when playing under Pep Guardiola in 2012. Can the Argentine return to those heights under new boss, Luis Enrique?

It was disappointment for Lionel Messi as Argentina lost 1-0 in the World Cup final, an opportunity that many saw as Messi’s best to win the World Cup. He came into the tournament at 27 years old, the perceived footballing prime, but ultimately fell at the final hurdle.

“The flea” did produce moments of magic at this year’s finals; that strike against Iran and the marvelous opening goal against Bosnia & Herzegovina. However, he was notably tired near the end of the tournament.

With Barcelona going through a period of transition this summer it will be a huge season for Messi and Barcelona.Will we see the four time Ballon d’Or fire Barcelona back to the top of Spanish and European football?

Pep Guardiola – A key man in Messi’s career

Pep Guardiola is the manager that moved Messi to the false nine position that he occupies to devastating effect today. Before this as many of you know “the flea” was utilized in a right wing role. The move to a more central role saw Messi become a goal scoring machine that led to him scoring 91 goals in 2012, which was in the middle of Pep’s last season.

One of the things that Guardiola introduced was dieticians and nutritionists to alter the squad’s habits. As in the season before their had been a notable decline in Ronaldinho’s form and physical condition. The objective with this new regime was to modernise training and prevent muscular injuries.

This new regime worked very well with Messi who was barely injured during the Guardiola era. Previously to this he had suffered eight hamstring injuries in a two-year period. With a new regime and diet Messi excelled under Pep Guardiola. With the Argentine free from injury, his talent flourished under a coach who played him in his favoured central position; the position he played in his youth in the La Masia academy.

In the 2011-12 season Messi played 60 games, his highest amount and an increase in the amount he played under Frank Rijkaard, where injuries always disrupted his campaigns:

– 25 appearances in 2005-06

– 36 appearances in 2006-07

– 40 appearances in 2007-08

In the following two seasons after the Guardiola era the hamstring injuries resurface; a first injury occurring against PSG in the Champions League Quarter-Final. Messi then suffered another muscular injury against Real Betis in November of last year and did not return until the middle of January.

The “flea” is a player who is dependent on explosive dynamic moments to accelerate away from opponents and with injuries occurring in the last two seasons, this has disrupted his campaign and had an impact on his physical condition. He has never been a player who is going to cover eleven or twelve kilometres per game.

Luis Enrique: Can he replicate the Guardiola era?

One of Luis Enrique’s aims will be of course be able to integrate his attacking talent into a fluid system. Barcelona and the 4-3-3 formation are synonymous with one another and this is unlikely to change.

A front three of Neymar, Messi and new signing Luis Suarez is frightening. Enrique may also opt to use a 4-3-1-2 with Messi playing just behind Neymar and Suarez but as seen with Argentina this is not the best system to utilize the goal scoring talents of one of the greatest footballers on the planet.

This current Barcelona team is entering a transitional period under Luis Enrique and they will not be as dominant as they were 2012. This may make it difficult for Messi to replicate his 2012 goal scoring exploits.

While this writer does not think that Messi has declined as a player, the decline of Xavi and Dani Alves has not helped and Luis Enrique will need to replace the fading stars. Croatian Ivan Rakitic has joined and the club has also been linked with Fiorentina winger Juan Cuadrado who may be converted to a right back role.

One would think we may have seen the best of Messi; under Pep Guardiola he scored 91 goals in 2012 which will be very difficult to replicate. It was the case of a special manager and a special player, both being pivotal to a Barcelona team that was one of the best in living memory. Will we ever see the likes of it again?

Dan Dalton, Pundit Arena.

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