Messi's best-ever form? Real Madrid's chances vs. Juventus? La Liga strike?
We asked our Twitter followers to put their questions to Sid Lowe. Here are 10 of the best.
Sid: One of the things that most struck me about Messi this week actually came in the news conference the day before the game, rather than the game itself. He looked so lean, even in the face. I think he's quicker than before, more agile, seemingly looking after himself better than ever (although it is always risky to make that kind of conclusion from the outside). He looks better than ever physically. That said, to look at his game from a physical point of view is very reductionist.
In truth, he has probably been the world's most talented player since virtually the moment he first appeared. You always felt, even right at the start, that he was just an injury-free season away from being the best. I also think that he has always been very complete (a word that too often gets used in a way that is, well, incomplete) player. Messi is the best No. 10 in the world. He probably also would be the best No. 4, No. 8 and No. 11, if he played there. And we know that he's the best false No. 9.
In some ways, I almost think he is underrated, or at least that there are elements of his game that don't get picked up on: his control of pace and rhythm, his passing and decision-making. This season we're seeing some differences/improvements: the number of goals scored with his right foot, the consistency with which he plays that left-footed, in-swinging curled ball, clipped over the top of defences. Both are things that we had seen before but not as often. He probably can be said to be at his best ever, yes. And he was pretty damn good before.
It is worth looking at the context, too: a team encountering a bit more space, freedom given to him to move around the pitch (he's choosing his moments to come deeper better than before), and the support from Neymar and Luis Suarez, perhaps taking some of the attention from him. That front line is very well balanced and has players who suit each other very well indeed.
I'm not sure how his game will evolve. It feels difficult to imagine that he could add anything else ... except becoming a bit better at penalties. But then we've seen changes this year. What is left that he doesn't do? Maybe he could learn to hit those Xabi Alonso style 50-yard diagonals too? Get stronger in the air? (And by the way, although he is small, he actually is pretty good in the air).
Talking of evolution and what he might become, much as I much prefer to avoid the Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo comparisons, which can be very, very tiresome and ridiculously bitter and myopic, maybe there is something interesting there: Ronaldo, now 30, has become more of a No. 9, presumably a conscious and intelligent decision based on an awareness either of a physical decline or the potential for one, designed to prolong his career and protect him. It is working brilliantly. I raise that issue because the question then would be, given that we're talking about changes in Messi's game and what may come in the future, in what direction would he evolve if and when he reaches a similar position physically or makes a similar decision? It would presumably not be towards a No. 9 in the traditional sense. Would he become a kind of Xavi figure? A less mobile No. 10?
Sid: The best thing to happen to Real Madrid in Turin was the result. Apart from 20 minutes in the first half when personally I thought they were very good indeed, during which time Ronaldo scored and James Rodriguez hit the bar, Madrid were awful in my opinion. It could have been worse than 2-1, not least with that header from Fernando Llorente at the end, which was dreadful and which Iker Casillas somehow saved with his face, by chance. But it's not just that it could have been worse, it's that actually 2-1 away is not that bad a result anyway. Juventus were far better than I anticipated, I admit (and better than Madrid expected too), but I think Madrid will go through, yes.
Sid: At the moment it is certain, but somehow you can't help but think that it will be avoided. The reason it has happened now is that there is a 10-day spell before the new TV rights decree gets passed by Congress, so in other words, it is now or never. In particular, the battle between the RFEF -- the federation -- and the LFP that runs the top two divisions (with the AFE players' association playing a role too) is so bitter and so absolute now that despite that kind of complacent initial sense of "ah, they'll sort it out", the flip-side is that it is hard to see how they can possibly come to an agreement. All the less so because the government were involved in this. The RFEF feel like they have been conned and they will not back down.
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One really big question now is: what do FIFA do? Because we may end up with the Spanish state against FIFA.
On one level at least, this has been a turf war, a battle for power and control and the LFP have played dirty (with the help of the government), in the RFEF's eyes. From the LFP and the government's point of view, this was an opportunity to finally curtail the power of the RFEF, and not without justification. This is genuinely a fight to try to sink each other. It's a mess. Personally, I have more sympathy for the AFE's position than that of the other two and certainly when it comes to their respective presidents. The system is rotten.
This season, the LFP, the RFEF and the AFE have all threatened to go on strike. That only leaves the people who would be most justified in going taking such action: the fans.
Sid: I'm not sure. I suppose it would depend how long he is there for -- in other words how many times he fails to win it -- and how he fails to win it. If he carries on getting poor results like in both semifinals so far, and gets beaten heavily then of course it will damage him a lot. That said, there are trenches dug already and I suspect that his defenders and attackers may remain in those same positions anyway. But of course the failure to win the European Cup would do him a lot of damage.
Sid: Well, that's the $64 million question! I have a feeling that Atletico Madrid, much to their own angst, will end up handing the title to their rivals [Atletico still have to play leaders Barcelona].
Is Rakitic one of the unsung heroes for Barcelona this season? And why did Barcelona face no competition for his signature? #asksid- Michael Ofori (@MichaelKOfori) May 6, 2015
Sid: Personally, I think Rakitic has been very good this season and he has been at the heart of the shift in style which has meant that, from some quarters, there has been a kind of resistance to him, perhaps even a desire not to recognise his value. He was exceptional against Bayern Munich and with time and success, people are coming round to him. Why was there not more competition for him? Essentially because he ensured that there wouldn't be: the deal was done early and he was clear that he wanted to go to Barcelona, essentially make it pointless for anyone to try.
Between Suarez and Rakitic, which signing was more important for Barca? #asksid- Frost Dq (@FCBFrost) May 6, 2015
Sid: Suarez, insofar as you can properly make a comparison or set them up in competition with each other. He is another player who defines the style shift and also a player who I think was very necessary for Barcelona. He is the closest thing they have had to Samuel Eto'o and the perfect player to fit with Messi and Neymar (of those available at least). Also, for all the public image of him, he's also got a near perfect attitude. For a player of that ability and that significance, he is remarkably lacking in individual ego. Desperate to win, but not particularly worried about being at the heart of that win: no particular desperation to be the goal scorer or the superstar. Less technically gifted than the other two but works, pressures, plays, stretches defences, gives physical presence.
Sid: On the face of it, Otamendi has the perfect qualities for the Premier League: aggressive, strong, committed, clever, hard. He'd be allowed to be harder in England, generally. But it will be interesting to see him in a defence more exposed, in a game that's both more direct and, usually, more likely to be open, with spaces and people running at the back four from deeper. The surprise in a way is that this season at Valencia has been a "surprise" and that they did not have more difficulties getting him.
Sid: He should and I can't help thinking that he will eventually. But the money is a problem. Luis Enrique wants him to stay. He wants to stay (or so he says). Plus, Barcelona can't buy so they'd be mad not to renew him. But then . . . Also, elections this summer may complicate things.
#asksid Is this Barcelona team the most complete or the 2008-2009 or 2010-2011 teams better?- Atharva Prabhune (@PrabhuneAtharva) May 7, 2015
Sid: I suppose in terms of control and domination, in terms of doing things we just hadn't seen before and being better than the rest, it's hard to look beyond the 2011 team. But there was something more exhilarating about the 2009 team, in part because it was new and unexpected. And this team is exciting too. I guess 2009 is the explosion, 2011 the peak in terms of the being the perfect expression of Guardiola's vision, a team that created a new identity, and this 2015 team is a kind of reboot, which is very enjoyable to watch and getting better all the time.
All of them owe something to each other so it's hard to kind of pick them apart fully. If we had not seen the other teams, we would talk about this team as one of domination and control, great passing and attacking talent -- as seen vs. Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and, at times, Bayern) but of course in the context of 2011 it feels like a more chaotic, more direct team, defined more by the strikers than the midfielders. To talk about them as counter-attacking, as direct, is very narrow, but I suppose compared to 2011 that's kind of true, at times at least. It's perhaps a bit closer to 2009, certainly when you look at the front three.
This one may end up being the best but we also have to see how they evolve, how other teams shift to counteract them and so on. Guardiola's team, certainly by 2011, was the one that felt more defining. Is it too big a leap or too fancy to say "paradigm-shifting"? Is that an irritating phrase? Maybe, but there's an element of that, perhaps. Also, the context before all of these teams was Frank Rijkaard's side, which has been sort of forgotten but felt very different, very special, at the time.
Sid Lowe is a Spain-based columnist and journalist who writes for ESPN FC, the Guardian, FourFourTwo and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @sidlowe.