Comparing Barcelona’s XI on Lionel Messi’s first & last appearance

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Barcelona's Lionel Messi during their UEFA Champions League win over Udinese at Camp Nou, Barcelona, October 2005.

After making his senior debut with Barcelona, Lionel Messi became a constant in the side but a lot changed around him over the years.

Despite wanting to stay at Barcelona, Messi officially announced his departure in August 2021, bringing to an end a truly remarkable career in Catalonia. 

We’ve looked back at the Barcelona team from his debut, a 1-0 win at Espanyol in October 2004, and compared it to the XI which took to the field for his last game, a 2-1 defeat against Celta Vigo in May 2021.

Goalkeeper

Victor Valdes was a familiar face at the Nou Camp in October 2004, having by now established himself as the No.1 in Barcelona’s first team.

The former Spain international won the first of five Zamora Trophies in 2004-05 and soon became one of the best goalkeepers in the world. 

He eventually decided to leave the Spanish giants when his contract expired at the end of 2013-14, ending a 22-year association with the club.

Alongside Claudio Bravo, Marc-Andre ter Stegen was signed following Valdes’s departure and the duo initially shared goalkeeping duties.

The Germany international deservedly got the nod as Barcelona’s out-and-out No.1 in 2016 and has now made 346 appearances for the club. 

Defence

With Frank Rijkaard picking a back four and Ronald Koeman opting for a back three, it’s not possible to compare the team player for player.

Having been appointed club captain ahead of the 2004-05 season, Carles Puyol led the Barcelona team out for the game against Espanyol.

The centre-back played alongside Oleguer, who made 167 appearances for the club and has become renowned for his political campaigning for Catalan independence.
Juliano Belletti and Giovanni van Bronckhorst completed the back four and remained first-team regulars until they both left the club in 2007. 

Gerard Pique left La Masia for Manchester United in 2004 before returning to Barcelona in 2008 and becoming one of the most decorated players of all-time. He retired in November 2022.

Clement Lenglet was sent off for two bookable offences against Celta Vigo and Ronald Araujo was their third centre-back in Messi’s final game. 

Midfield

Following injuries to Thiago MottaEdmilson and Gerard, Rafael Marquez moved from his favoured centre-back position and played in midfield throughout 2004-05.

Xavi had already made over 250 appearances for Barcelona before that Espanyol game and was partnered by Deco, who scored the only goal on the night and was later replaced by Messi.

Sergio Busquets remains a near ever-present in the Barcelona midfield and started against Celta Vigo alongside teenage sensation Pedri, who was not yet two years old when Messi made his debut.

With Frenkie de Jong unavailable due to a suspension, Ilaix Moriba made just his 17th appearance for Barcelona, but was soon sold to RB Leipzig. The midfielder is now on loan at Valencia.

Despite being a winger, Ousmane Dembele was used as a right wing-back in the 3-5-2 formation while Jordi Alba lined up on the left.

Forwards

Back in October 2004, a young Messi had to settle for an eight-minute cameo off the bench against Espanyol due to Barcelona’s star-studded front three.

Playing from the left flank, Ronaldinho was at the peak of his powers and went on to win the Ballon d’Or in 2005. Henrik Larsson and Samuel Eto’o both joined Barcelona that summer and made up the rest of the forward line.

Seventeen years later, Messi went into the game against Celta Vigo as La Liga’s all-time leading goalscorer and Barcelona’s captain.

He marked his final appearance with his 672nd goal for the club and was partnered by Antoine Griezmann, who struggled to live up to expectations at the Nou Camp and was sold back to Atletico Madrid.


READ MORE: The 14 Barcelona players who made their debut in the same season as Messi

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