La Liga without Lionel Messi: Why Messi is not playing for Barcelona, and his potential Pichichi successor

It’s going to feel weird. Even Lionel Messi admitted it.

La Liga is kicking off, but for the first time since 2003 there will be no Messi suiting up for perennial power FC Barcelona. His contract with the club expired on June 30, making him a free agent, but the financial troubles of the cash-strapped club meant Barcelona couldn’t add him back to the roster for the upcoming season due to league roster rules.

Messi is a hero and club icon, developed in Barcelona’s famous La Masia academy, and he will forever occupy legendary status in the club. But star players come and go all the time from top teams around the world, including from FC Barcelona. The next stars are sure to step up to begin to fill the void. Messi told fans as much in his tearful farewell news conference:

MORE: Explaining why Lionel Messi left Barcelona

“Barca are one of the best teams in the world, they have an amazing side,” he said. “More players will come, not just now but in the future. Players come and go. As (Barcelona president Joan) Laporta said, no one person comes before the club. At first, it will be weird, but people will get used to it.”

One of the areas in which Messi’s absence will be immediately noticed is in the goal-scoring department: He has won the La Liga Pichichi top-scorer title for each of the last five seasons, and eight overall. Other forwards around the league are finally entering a season with real hope of claiming the prestigious crown. The list of sportsbook favorites to take over for Messi follows below:

How to watch La Liga in USA

All 380 matches of the 2021-2022 La Liga season will be streamed in English and Spanish on ESPN+, kicking off the first of eight years of exclusive coverage in the United States. Select matches will also be aired on ABC, ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

  • Dates: Aug. 13, 2021-May 22, 2022
  • Matches: Total of 380 league matches in 2021-2022
  • Streaming: ESPN+ (all matches in English & Spanish)
  • TV Channels: ABC, ESPN (select matches)
  • Spanish-language TV: ESPN Deportes (select matches)

La Liga top scorer favorites

Two U.S.-based sportsbooks have odds on the players to finish as top scorers in the 2021-2022 La Liga season. Real Madrid center forward, 33-year-old Karim Benzema, who finished second behind Messi in each of the last three seasons, is the favorite to win the Pichichi award. Barcelona’s Memphis Depay and Atletico Madrid’s Luis Suarez are not too far behind.

PlayerTeamWilliam HillBetRivers
Karim BenzemaReal Madrid+350+300
Memphis DepayBarcelona+400+650
Luis SuarezAtletico Madrid+400+500
Gerard MorenoVillarreal+800+900
Antoine GriezmannBarcelona+1000+800
Youssef En-NesyriSevilla+1200+1100
Alexander IsakReal Sociedad+1200+1100
Sergio AgueroBarcelona+1200N/A
Gareth BaleReal Madrid+1800N/A
Ansu FatiBarcelona+2000N/A
Iago AspasCelta Vigo+2200+2500
Joao FelixAtletico Madrid+2500+10000
Eden HazardReal Madrid+2500N/A
Paco AlcacerVillarreal+2800N/A
Mikel OyarzabalReal Sociedad+2800+6600
Carlos BaccaGranada+3300N/A
Maxi GomezValencia+3300+5000
Vinicius JuniorReal Madrid+3300N/A
Raul de TomasEspanyolN/A+3300
Rodrigo De PaulAtletico Madrid+3300N/A
Lucas OcamposSevilla+5000N/A
Ousmane DembeleBarcelona+5000N/A
Jose Luis MoralesLevanteN/A+6600
Inaki WilliamsAthletic Bilbao+6600N/A
Lucas PerezDeportivo Alaves+6600N/A
Ante BudimirOsasuna+6600N/A
Borja IglesiasReal Betis+6600+5000
Landry DimataEspanyol+10000N/A
JoseluDeportivo Alaves+10000N/A
Angel CorreaAtletico Madrid+10000N/A
Roberto SoldadoLevante+10000N/A
Lucas BoyeElche+10000N/A
Raul GarciaAthletic Bilbao+10000N/A
Jaime MataGetafe+10000N/A
Santi MinaCelta Vigo+10000N/A
Roger MartiLevante+10000N/A
Nabil FekirReal BetisN/A+10000

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