Barca Nepal. Barcelona was heading into the start of the 17/18 campaign. They have just lost the Supercopa 5-1 in humiliating fashion to their eternal rivals Real Madrid, failed to replace Neymar in an underwhelming summer transfer window, with a new coach at the helm, and Gerard Piqué drops this quote “In the nine years that i have been here, it is the first time that i feel inferior to Madrid”. It seemed Barca hit rock bottom.
Pundits were declaring “the end of an era” and it looked like the team was heading into another fruitless campaign for the second year in row. But never discard a team that has Lionel Messi!
Fast forward to today, and Barcelona are top of the league with an unbeaten record, reached the final of Copa Del Rey, and in good position to advance to the quarter final in the Champions League.
With that in mind, let’s look at the top 5 valuable players at this point of the season that made the difference for Barca.
1. Lionel Messi
Who else? At 30 years, Messi continues to deliver amazing performances every game and dictate his play like no other player on the planet. He’s leading La Liga in goals (22) AND assists (12), and is at the center of everything Barca does. He created most chances(66), succeeded most dribbles (5.5/game), played 2nd most minutes after Ter Stegen, and won man of the match 16 times.
Messi doesn’t only fill the stats and sets records, but his ability to control the game and will his team to victory with his brilliance is unmatched. There’s currently no other player with a credible challenge to compete with Messi for Ballon d’Or for a record 6th time.
2. Samuel Umtiti
This might not be a consensus choice, but ‘Big Sam’ is making the leap this year and his current form makes him arguably one of the best defenders in the world. At 22, the Frenchman arrived to Spain 2 years ago without much fanfare and was supposed to be a backup to the established duo of Gerard Piqué and Javier Mascherano, but his rise has been unexpectedly quick and he’s a big reason for Barca’s success this year. His calmness, athleticism, and pass distribution is incredible.
This version of Barca under Ernesto Valverde has a certain defensive resilience that we’ve never seen before and Umititi is the main anchor of that defense. He’s quickly became a fan favorite and the perfect successor to Carlos Puyol.
3. Sergio Busquets
Barca still didn’t find a replacement to Xavi, but when Busi hangs his boots, his absence would be more noticeable. Vicente Del Bosque once said “you watch the game, you don’t see Busquets, you watch Busquets, you see the whole game”. Never the flashy player or the one to grab the headlines, but he’s been arguably the fulcrum of this team and the golden Spanish national team for the past decade. He’s the embodiment of technical excellence and football intelligence, and he’s been doing it this year as well.
4. Luis Suárez
El Pistolero had a slow start this campaign and struggled to form with an injury and a new system after Neymar’s departure, but he’s been recently red hot and back to his best. He scored 20 goals so far and provided 7 assists. Suárez remains one of the best strikers in the box and he continues to bully defenders all night and score from everywhere. He was the difference maker on many occasions this year and Barcelona will need his clutch performances if they are to win another treble.
5. Ivan Rakitić
The Croatian has been a staple of Valverde’s team this season playing into multiple positions in midfield. He completed most passes (1502 with a 91% passing accuracy), created 24 chances and scored 4 goals and 4 assists. Most importantly, he’s developing a more defensive role to form a double pivot with Busquets and allow the integration of Coutinho and Dembélé in the squad.