Lionel Messi remains the best footballer in the world and it is down to his Barcelona team-mates to play to the forward’s strengths, according to midfielder Frenkie de Jong.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has yet to fully adapt to new boss Ronald Koeman’s 4-2-3-1 system, failing to score from open play in six matches this season.
He has also created just one chance in LaLiga this term, with young academy product Ansu Fati – five goals and one assist in all competitions – stealing the limelight.
But De Jong, who has thrived in a deeper midfield role under Koeman, insists it is down to the others in Barca’s squad to ensure Messi is in the right positions to work his magic.
“When you have Messi in your team, of course you have the best player in the world in your team,” he told UEFA’s official website.
“You try to get him into the best positions to make a difference and I think we need to adapt to him.
“When he is receiving the ball in a position where he can make the difference, he will make it for you, always.”
De Jong struggled at times in his debut campaign at Camp Nou, but has been shifted into his favoured position by Koeman alongside Sergio Busquets.
The Netherlands international is averaging more successful dribbles this season (2.45) compared to the 2019/20 campaign (1.95) and, while he is touching the ball less often – down from 81.43 per game to 77.73 – he is happy with the tactical tweak.
“I think in my nature as a player, I want to receive the ball early in the play and to set up the play,” he said.
“I think that’s more my style of play than waiting for the ball and receiving it up front, and touching the ball less.
“I think I feel more comfortable in the pivot position than high up front, but I can also play high up front.
“It doesn’t matter for me so much but, if I had to choose, I would rather play as a double pivot than, for example, as a ‘mediapunta’ (false nine).”
De Jong was signed from Ajax in a €75million deal in January 2019 and linked up with then-Barca boss Ernesto Valverde in Catalonia six months later.
And the 23-year-old has revealed Koeman, who was his national team manager at the time, advised him on a possible switch to the LaLiga giants.
“I spoke to him on the phone and he was really positive about Barcelona as a club as well as Barcelona as a city,” he said of the former Barca defender.
“I think the communication between us, between the coach and me, is really good, and he tells me strictly what he demands from me in this position, and I think everything is really clear.
“When he’s talking, you are listening to him because he has this authority, this power – I don’t know how to explain it – and, of course, he has a lot of knowledge about football because I think he understands the game and was a great player before.
“So, if he tries to teach you something, you’re listening.”