When the Spanish media used to talk of “Messidependencia”, it always seems like a cliche. Now, it is a reality for Barcelona – more so than ever before. Messi is now the mainstay with every passing gameweek.
Barca’s brief moments of quality in last weekend’s 3-1 loss at Levante and the 0-0 draw at home to Slavia Prague on Tuesday had come from the feet of their talisman. And against Celta Vigo on Saturday, victory arrived because of him. Only because of him.
Lionel Messi converted from the penalty spot to give Barca a somewhat fortuitous lead at Camp Nou, before two fabulous free-kicks lifted the champions from their recent struggles en route to a flattering 4-1 win. The Argentine attacker had also conceded the free-kick from which Celta levelled, yet that seemed only to make him angrier.
After making a slow start to the season through injury, Messi has racked up nine goals for Barcelona (Whoscored) and just under half of them have come from free-kicks.
Sevilla were the first team to suffer from Messi’s set-piece brilliance before Real Valladolid succumbed to the same fate and then Celta Vigo conceded two in the space of 20 minutes.
Messi has always had an impressive free-kick in his locker, but it’s in recent years that his accuracy has really improved and he’s scored 19 across the last three seasons alone.
Going to a much broader perspective, Messi alone has scored more free-kicks since the 2011/12 season than top teams in the big five European leagues. Not players. Teams! Messi has converted 29 in La Liga, while everyone at Juventus combined have scored 27, Real Madrid have 23, Roma and Olympique Lyonnais have 21 and PSG have 20 (via FC Barcelona).
At 32 years of age, it’s easy to imagine that Messi’s contribution to Barcelona at top level will decline significantly, but with performances like this – he can easily remain at the top for even more years to come, without having to do a whole lot as well.
While his arch-rival, Cristiano Ronaldo has recently struggled to keep up with the physical demands of his gameplay, Messi has simply perfected something less demanding for himself. And on accessions where he can’t glide through players or make darting runs through the defence, all he needs is a few set-pieces and he could yet still dominate the headlines – as we’ve seen on more than one outing.
Messi’s brilliance from nothing
It’s a trait that his Barcelona teammates are certainly relieved about and Sergio Busquets said this week:
“He’s been improving bit by bit and it was difficult. Having him is a very big advantage.
“We have a very big advantage, he’s the best in the world and also the best free-kick taker in the world.” (via Goal)
Anyone who thinks free-kicks and set-pieces are not skills to be mastered should probably think again. According to Marca, Messi has scored four free-kicks from 10 attempts in La Liga, thus giving him a conversion rate of 40% so far this season.
Compare that to Manchester United who have dispatched just two of the six penalties they’ve been awarded in the Premier League, producing a conversion rate of just 33.3% as per Transfermarkt.
So, in other words, Messi is deadlier from free kicks than United are from penalties despite being just one player and having to shoot from twice the distance. Speaks volumes on how Messi has turned set-pieces to his natural domain.
Despite all the attacking quality Barcelona can boast of, the Argentine still looks the most deadly player whenever he’s on the pitch and Valverde openly had to admit to Messi’s brilliance and impact to the squad.
“It’s impossible not to depend on Messi,” the Barca coach said. “He illuminates everything. What are we to do? If he played for another team, they would also depend upon him.”
Truer words could not have been said. Just recently, club president Josep Bartomeu claimed Messi could still play top football for three, four or even five more years as quoted by Skysports. It’s a difficult one to imagine considering Messi’s current age and his recent struggles with fitness as well. But on closer look, based on performances like the one against Celta Vigo, It’s easy to understand that Messi can still influence games for as long as he remains on the pitch.