Barcelona are facing the very real prospect of starting the 2020-21 season without Lionel Messi.
The Argentine forward is desperate to leave after losing faith in the sporting project at Camp Nou under the club’s unpopular president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Bartomeu is open to resigning from his position if Messi changes his mind, but the six-time Ballon d’Or winner reportedly has no intention of performing a U-turn.
The 33-year-old failed to turn up for coronavirus tests on Sunday morning as this would have compromised his claim that his contract has been unilaterally terminated.
Messi believes he is a free agent and wants to reunite with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Barça fans are understandably gutted at the prospect of losing the club’s greatest ever player, although the vast majority of them can understand his decision.
They don’t blame Messi for feeling the way he does, they pin the blame firmly on the board.
Ronald Koeman, meanwhile, is now faced with the unenviable task of building Barcelona’s post-Messi team.
The Dutchman spoke with Messi earlier this month and informed the legendary forward that he would continue to be the team’s main man.
Reports suggested that Koeman also told Messi “your privileges in the squad are over”, although it’s hard to fathom why the Dutch coach would opt to shoot himself in the foot by uttering those words.
In any case, it seems that Messi has played his final match for Barça, and Koeman will now be planning for life without the clubs’ wantaway star.
What might Barcelona’s starting XI look like in 2020-21, then? Let’s take a closer look…
Goalkeeper: Marc-Andre ter Stegen
Arguably the best goalkeeper in the world during the 2019-20 season, Marc-Andre ter Stegen is staying put at Camp Nou.
Yes, he may have conceded eight goals against Bayern Munich recently, but how many of them were his fault?
Right-back: Nelson Semedo
Would Barcelona prefer a better right-back? Probably, yes. Will they get one in time for the start of the new season? Probably not.
Maybe Joao Cancelo will move in the opposite direction when Messi completes his transfer to Man City. If not, Semedo will continue at right-back.
Centre-back: Gerard Pique
Linked with a shock move to newly-promoted English side Fulham earlier this month, Gerard Pique is one of the players Koeman wants to keep at Camp Nou.
The 33-year-old, who said he’d be the first to leave if the club wished after the 8-2 defeat to Bayern, will continue in the heart of the Barça defence.
Centre-back: Clement Lenglet
Pique will be partnered by either Clement Lenglet or Eric Garcia, who is expected to move to Barcelona from City this summer.
Lenglet, who arrived from Sevilla in 2018, may get the nod initially from Koeman.
Left-back: David Alaba
Now in the final year of his contract at Bayern, David Alaba would be a fantastic acquisition for Barcelona.
The 28-year-old would replace Jordi Alba, who Koeman has deemed surplus to requirements, at left-back.
Midfield: Frenkie de Jong
We only saw glimpses of Frenkie de Jong at his best last season. The Dutch midfielder, who was exceptional for Ajax during the 2018-19 season, has so much more to offer.
At 23, though, De Jong’s best years are ahead of him. Koeman may help to bring the best out of him.
Midfield: Miralem Pjanic
Miralem Pjanic will be disappointed to hear that he probably won’t be linking up with Messi at Camp Nou during the upcoming season.
The former Juventus star, who joined Barça this summer in a deal which saw Arthur Melo move the other way, could have formed an excellent on-pitch understanding with the left-footed wizard.
Regardless, Pjanic could prove to be a top signing for the Catalan outfit.
Midfield: Philippe Coutinho
Philippe Coutinho rubbed salt into Barcelona’s wounds by scoring two goals against his parent club in Bayern Munich’s 8-2 victory.
He then lifted the Champions League trophy with the German club.
His days at Camp Nou appeared to be over, but the arrival of Koeman and the departure of Messi could change everything for the Brazilian.
Left-wing: Ousmane Dembele
Ousmane Dembele now finds himself in last chance saloon at Barcelona.
The French winger is a huge talent but a combination of injuries, inconsistency and a lack of professionalism has cast doubt over his future.
Unless Dembele produces the goods this season, he will be sold in 2021.
Right-wing: Antoine Griezmann
Koeman doesn’t want to play Griezmann on the wing but for the purposes of this 4-3-3 formation, that’s where we’re putting him.
The World Cup winner is another player who could potentially flourish when the pressure of performing alongside Messi is taken away from him.
Centre-forward: Lautaro Martinez
Barcelona’s number one transfer target and the man who could be responsible for the impossible task of scoring the goals that Messi once did, Lautaro Martinez will need to hit the ground running at Camp Nou if he signs.
The Inter Milan forward’s goalscoring record is hardly Messi-esque - he’s scored 30 goals in 84 games for the Nerazzurri - but he’ll be hoping to improve his tally with service from the likes of Pjanic and Griezmann.
Here’s a graphic - per @AbdulrasakAremu on Twitter - of how Barcelona’s first-choice XI might look this season…
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