how to defend against Lionel Messi


12:00 p.m., August 29, 2021

Between 2013 and 2015, PSG faced Lionel Messi’s Barcelona six times in the Champions League. Before each match, Luis Ferrer was in charge of supervising the future opponent. And therefore to find a way to slow down his Argentinian compatriot. A puzzle. « I was paying attention to two aspects: his positioning, which was not always the same, and his combinations on the left side with Jordi Alba. We analyzed their movements and put in place strategies. But more often than not, he didn’t ‘there was nothing to do, « remembers Ferrer, who left the Parisian club to found his own support structure ( In this period of domination concluded by a European coronation (2015), the Pulga scored three goals against Paris, losing only once, in the group stage.

All defenders once wondered, watching his matches for Barcelona, ​​how they would deal with Messi. Andreaw Gravillon has been added to the list in recent days. Tonight, the Reims stopper could see the best player in the world up close. « If you position yourself to take him to the right, you know he will still have the solution to go to the left, and vice versa. He has too many options in his game, » blows the Guadeloupe, loaned by the Inter Milan. The key, if there is one? « Hold on to your support as much as possible then try to feel where it is going to go. » Fatalist, the ex-Lorient knows that « a few minutes of practice will give more indications than hours of videos to dissect his game and his feints ».

Messi scores the least in the first ten minutes of each period

For his book The Barcelona Complex: Lionel Messi and the Making – and Unmaking – of the World’s Greatest Soccer Club (not translated), writer Simon Kuper focused on the Argentinian artist’s match debut: “It was in 2015 against Atlético de Madrid. For the first five minutes, he didn’t watch the ball nor participated in the game. He walked in defense and looked at the positioning of each. Mascherano passed him a pass but he simply let the ball slip away because he was not ready to play. « Time to take his bearings in space. A UEFA study of his 123 European goals confirms this: it was in the first ten minutes of every period that Messi scores the least (15 goals in total, all the same).

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Which leaves, at the very least, seventy minutes of magic. « Because of its size [1,69 mètre] and his way of running, Messi takes very small steps, notes Kuper. Touching the ground all the time, he can therefore change direction faster than any defender. « And continue to surprise while his zone of expression, just outside 16 meters, is perfectly known. As are his signature gestures.
Opponents in the Copa America final, between Argentina and Brazil (1-0), on July 11, Messi and Neymar will find themselves under the same jersey. As in Barcelona from 2013 to 2017.

« At the time, Neymar was a light and extremely fast winger who chased after Messi’s assists, compares Simon Kuper, also a reporter for the Financial Times. This Neymar was his ideal partner. » The Blaugrana captain never accepted his teammate’s departure; he also went out of his way to convince his club to repatriate « Ney » in the summer of 2019.

Between January and June, Messi signed more than 50% of Barca’s goals and assists

Messi’s efficiency has not weakened last season: between January and June, he signed more than 50% of Barca’s goals and assists. But the maestro grew tired of being the only weapon of a predictable collective since the forced departure of Luis Suarez, the « S » of the famous « MSN ». Far from the golden years when the races repeated on the left side by Eric Abidal, Neymar or Jordi Alba opened the heart of the game to him.

The Copa América, in addition to offering Messi his first international trophy in sixteen years of Albiceleste, gave several indications on the style he could print at PSG. Well supported by Rodrigo De Paul, complete midfielder recruited this summer by Atlético de Madrid, Messi remained high on the pitch, 25-30 meters from the opposing surface, slightly shifted to the right to make his first touch with his left foot, its best, and get back on track. « He tends to do 10 or 12 meters with the ball, » notes Christophe Kuchly, author of several books on tactics, including the recent How to win a football match? (Solar). In Mauricio Pochettino’s eleven, this role can fall to Marco Verratti, a remote leader that Messi adores, or even Georginio Wijnaldum.

Kylian Mbappé, if he stays, will bring depth to Messi and Neymar, more comfortable with the ball in the feet. To open the axial zone to Parisian number 30, Achraf Hakimi, the most expensive side of the transfer window (65 million euros paid to Inter Milan), will have to lead the right corridor alone; or that Angel Di Maria remains glued to the sideline. « The latter is not intended to return to the axis », approves Kuchly, convinced after the South American coronation of the two Argentines that they « will not walk on each other’s feet ».

Faced with this dream offensive compartment, more than one technician will be overwhelmed by discouragement before briefing impressed players. Luis Ferrer smiles: « No coach will admit it but I always had this sentence before playing against Messi: ‘Hope he is not having a good day.' »

For Mbappé’s future, nothing is played out

After several days of intense agitation around Kylian Mbappé, nothing has officially changed. Real Madrid’s second offer (170 million euros plus 10 as a bonus) was not refused but PSG also did not give its price for a transfer by the close of the transfer market on Tuesday. at midnight, according to RMC Sport. The hypothesis of a union in a year, at the end of the contract of the world champion, still exists. In the meantime, the Parisian striker trained normally yesterday morning and could have playing time tonight. Just like Lionel Messi, for his first steps in his new colors? This is the trend, even if Mauricio Pochettino has prolonged the suspense, deferring the announcement of his group time to refine the analysis with his staff. The most exciting attacking trio ever assembled, with Neymar, therefore has a chance of being reunited on a Ligue 1 lawn. At least once.


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