Barca’s style has evolved, Messi says

SHOWDOWN::Barring an upset in the Club World Cup semi-finals, Lionel Messi will come face to face with Club Atletico River Plate, who almost signed him as a teenager

AFP, YOKOHAMA, Japan

Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 18

Lionel Messi believes the current Barcelona side has more weapons than Pep Guardiola’s 2008-2009 world-beaters and wants to prove it by winning a record third FIFA Club World Cup.

The Spanish giants, who have captured the UEFA Champions League, Spain’s La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the European Super Cup this year, take on China’s Guangzhou Evergrande Taobao tomorrow for a place in the tournament final in Yokohama on Sunday.

“It’s one of my favorite competitions,” said Messi, favorite to win his fifth Ballon d’Or next month. “It gives you the opportunity to round off the year in the best possible way. These titles are an indelible legacy in the history of the club. It’s something very important.”

“It’s been an amazing year,” the Argentina wizard told the FIFA Web site in the buildup to Barca’s clash against Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Guangzhou. “That time when we won everything under Guardiola looked unrepeatable. We genuinely weren’t sure if we’d get close to that again, [but] here we are. Now what’s left for us to do is end the year in the best possible way and make it unforgettable.”

Barring an upset in today’s first semi-final between Copa Libertadores holders Club Atletico River Plate and Japan’s Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Messi will come face to face with the side which almost signed him as a teenager in his native Argentina.

Remarkably, Messi has only once previously played against an Argentine club, when Barcelona beat Estudiantes de La Plata 2-1 in the 2009 FIFA Club World Cup final. Two years later, Barca smashed four past Brazil’s Santos, who featured Messi’s current teammate Neymar.

“I’ve witnessed [Neymar’s] enormous growth, both as a footballer and as a person,” Messi said. “Back then he was already a great player and now he’s much more complete. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have him alongside us.”

Messi gave an insight into how the Spanish league leaders have evolved under Luis Enrique, who relies less on the tiki-taka style of short, intricate passes than Guardiola.

“We’ve changed a little bit,” Messi said. “We’ve become a more vertical [direct] team. Of course, we’ve not lost our ideology of keeping hold of the ball. That’s our trademark and our priority — to control the play and keep possession — but now we’ve incorporated the idea that, with just a couple of touches, we can get in front of the opposition’s goal. Before it was about getting there using more elaborate buildup play.”

The addition of former Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, with his ability to play off the shoulder of the last defender, has undoubtedly given Barca more thrust.

Messi, Neymar and Suarez have plundered a jaw-dropping 127 goals for Barcelona this calendar year — more than Spanish rivals Real Madrid — although Neymar is a doubt in Japan with a groin strain.

Messi said that his game has changed, too.

“As time passes you grow, both on and off the pitch,” he said. “You go about adapting to different circumstances. Although I’ve kept the essence [of my playing style], over the years I’ve added qualities to my game.”