The message from Barca had been that you cannot replace the irreplaceable. Ernesto Valverde and Jordi Alba stressed before the game that there is no substitute for Messi. Instead, the rallying cry was for the whole team to step up during the forward’s three-week layoff due to a fractured bone in his arm. “Eleven Messis” was the call on the cover of newspaper Diario Sport.
Valverde brought in Rafinha for Messi but, while the midfielder provided the opening goal in a 2-0 win, he was not a direct replacement. The Barca coach was bulking up his midfield, seeking the control associated with the Catalan side. And in Arthur, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, he found it. They were supported by Rafinha, Sergi Roberto, and Philippe Coutinho, who themselves could have been the midfield three on another night.
Arthur, in particular, was sensational. Again. The 22-year-old, taken off with a slight knock in the second half, was given a standing ovation by the home supporters. It’s hard to believe he’s not come straight out of the club’s La Masia academy.