Lionel Mesii

FC Barcelona and manager Ernesto Valverde have an important season in front of them, as the Blaugrana look to re-establish themselves as Europe’s top squad. While they were able to capture a league and cup double last term, Barca also had to watch Real Madrid lift a third consecutive UEFA Champions League title.

The club have made some strong signings ahead of the 2018-19 campaign, which begins Sunday against Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup. Brazilian winger Malcolm was added after gaining his signature just ahead of AS Roma, while Arturo Vidal and Arthur will strengthen the midfield. Lionel Messi will again be expected to influence the attack, but there are some new elements to La Liga now for the Argentine superstar.

There are two immense changes that took place during the summer, and both involve players leaving Spain. The first can be found at Barcelona, and the departure of Andrés Iniesta. The legendary midfielder begins a new chapter of his career in Japan with Vissel Kobe, and will no longer be a familiar face for Messi on matchdays.

Barcelona’s best players have experienced this before, with the likes of Xavi and Carles Puyol eventually walking away from the Camp Nou. It is an adjustment that will take time, but Iniesta will be a bit of a different case for Messi to handle. A team-mate since the beginning, Iniesta was a calming and secure presence for Messi in the Barcelona line-up.

Now both in the locker room and out on the pitch, a crucial voice and figure will no longer be present. Messi may find more on his plate in terms of leadership, and the 31-year-old is one of the last links to the incredible success that Barcelona enjoyed in the previous decade.

The other change is found at the Santiago Bernabéu, with Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid for Juventus. Ronaldo and Messi have a unique and powerful rivalry, though it will be carried out in a different way.

The two rivals made each other better, as one constantly pushed the other to be even greater. Ronaldo and Messi have captured the past ten Ballon d’Or awards (five and five between them), with another likely on the way for 2018. They both helped to write new and fantastic chapters in El Clásico lore, and it will be interesting to see how that aspect changes Messi (and the Spanish first division).

Real Madrid will still be a force, possessing immense talent throughout their team and with Julen Lopetegui offering a fresh coaching perspective. Atlético Madrid are also set to be a contender in the upcoming season’s title race. However, Messi will be assuming a modified role within La Liga.

For nine years, the conversation in regards to the best player in the league has been about “Messi vs. Ronaldo”. That conversation has now ended. La Liga’s best player is Lionel Messi, and he no longer has the unstoppable drive of Cristiano Ronaldo motivating him towards the top of the table on a weekly basis. It is a fascinating psychological change that could have a significant effect in the near future.

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