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Messi - the devastating decoy

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Tim Vickery | 07:37 UK time, Monday, 5 April 2010

Reading Phil McNulty's blog after the Arsenal-Barcelona game, I was struck by the number of people who went out of their way to criticise the performance of Lionel Messi.

It is indicative of the enormous pressure the young Argentine will be under in the World Cup - the same pressure that broke his friend and former Barca team-mate Ronaldinho four years ago.

People are expecting circus tricks and something special in every game. It is the dilemma of the big name star in today's football.

The overkill of the marketing industry means that there is more focus than ever before on the top individuals - at a time when the physical and tactical development of the game makes football more collective than ever before.

Cesc Fabregas and Lionel MessiLionel Messi turns away from Cesc Fabregas during Barcelona's 2-2 Champions League draw at Arsenal - pic: Getty

Back in the 1950s, when sides played the WM system, football was essentially a collection of one against one duels - the right-back against the left-winger, the left-back against the right-winger, the centre-back against the centre-forward, and so on.

The great Hungarian side of the mid-50s rendered this obsolete. Their centre-forward dropped deep, leaving the centre-half in no man's land, and two attacking midfielders rushed in for the kill. Players became important not only in terms of the space they occupied, but also because of the space where their dynamism could take them.

The Brazilians found a way to protect themselves against this threat - the back four, with its key concept of extra defensive cover. But withdrawing an extra man to the back line left the midfield duo with acres around them, a problem spotted by left-winger Mario Zagallo, who funnelled back to help.

As the French coach Aime Jacquet said decades later, Zagallo taught the world that a player can have two shirts - that of attacker and defender.

Zagallo was fundamental to the World Cup wins of '58 and '62 and four years later England had a Zagallo on either flank, with Martin Peters and Alan Ball carrying out the double function. And so was born 4-4-2, probably the most successful system in the history of the game.

It was a key moment on the way to the revolutionary Holland side of 1974, with its clear intention of having as many players as possible involved in the play at any given moment, either in trying to win the ball back, or in giving options to the man on the ball.
The whole team - even the goalkeeper - had two shirts. It was the football of participation.

According to Brazil's physical preparation specialists, at the time of that great Dutch side, players were running 5,000 metres per game. By the mid 90s this had doubled, and now some players are covering 13,000.

Obviously, this leaves less space on the field for the star player to show his stuff. Instead of the previous succession of isolated one against duels, the game now is a permanent dispute of 11 against 11, where teams fight to create space for their talented players.

Mario Zagallo scores during the 1958 World Cup finalMario Zagallo, scoring during the 1958 World Cup final, filled a vital dual role for Brazil - pic: Getty

Now, more than ever, the rule applies that the stars appear when the balance of the team is correct. It is impossible to judge the contribution of the gifted individual without reference to how he fits in to the collective context.

But in today's climate this elemental truth can be hidden. With all the individual endorsement deals, FIFA World Player of the Year awards and so on, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that football is a team game.

A player's performance, though, should not be judged on how many stepovers he performed, but by how his display contributed to the team's objective.

Lionel Messi against Arsenal is an illustration. The little man had a profound effect on the game. He wants the ball played to his feet and the opposition are justifiably terrified by the prospect of him turning and spinning into one of his dribbles, and so they try to crowd him out.

The centre-back on that side of the field is concerned with pushing up and denying him space, which means that if Ibrahimovic can spin off the other centre back he is through on goal. There is no cover. The mere presence of Messi has negated the key advantage of the back four formation.

On the evidence of last month's 1-0 win away to Germany, Argentina have also worked out how to use Messi as a decoy. He drags the opposing defence over to the right, creating space for Angel Di Maria to fly down the other flank.

This is something that national team coach Diego Maradona understands well. In his finest hour, the 1986 World Cup, he took out England and Belgium single handedly on the way to the final, where he met the full force of the German marking.

What did he do? He dragged his markers all over the field and provided passes for his team-mates, like the one from which Jorge Burruchaga scored the winning goal. It was superb individual talent placed at the service of the collective - and that is the mark of the truly great player.

Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to vickerycolumn@hotmail.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) What has happened to Andres D' Alessandro? He seems to have been lost off the radar since he had a loan move to Portsmouth. Is he ever likely to fulfil his early promise and do you think he is ever likely to play for the national team again?
Jamie Hill

A) Never say never, but his career hasn't come close to fulfilling the hopes I had for him. European football can be hard on the playmaker, with the space squeezed and he was often turned into a wide midfielder, which he was not keen on.
He's in Brazil with Internacional of Porto Alegre. There are some nice touches, but he's not dominating the game the way he promised to do when he first broke into the River Plate side.

Q) I was wondering how Édison Méndez has been getting on since returning home to Ecuador with Liga de Quito. I always thought that Méndez looked a useful player when he was at PSV and I was surprised to see that he had returned to South America whilst still reasonably young at 30.
Conor McCann

A) I too am a huge fan - followed him on the way up and see him as an excellent all round midfielder who is worthy of wider attention. He helped LDU win the Copa Sud or Sul Americana (Europa League equivalent) and he's now gone to Brazil to join Atletico Mineiro, though he's not eligible to play until July.

Q) Is there any chance Nelson Cuevas will make the Paraguay squad this year? Coaches don't seem to like him but he has made a real impact off the bench in previous World Cups. He is one of the most skilful players I've ever seen.
Alex Morton

A) I first saw him at the start of 1999 in the South American Under-20 Championships. He played at both right-back and left wing, and interpreted both roles in exactly the same way - going on mazy dribbles with the ball tied to his foot. He was indeed a great impact sub in the last two World Cups, and is pushing his claims back at home with Olimpia. But Paraguay have a couple of players in front of him in the queue who also look like promising impact subs - Edgar Benitez on the left, and the fast arriving Rodolfo Gamarra on the right. Cuevas' chances are not looking good at the moment.

Comments

Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    FIRST?!?!

    Benefits of an 8 month old!

    Great blog as usual Phil. Messi showed his unselfish side against Arsenal by creating space for teammates as you say. This was very unlike Mr C Ronaldo in the CL Final last year when he thought it was all about him and insisted on shooting from 40 yards! This in my opinion is why "CR9" will never be truly World Class - he is far too egotistical and selfish. Still an unbelievable player though.

  • Comment number 2.

    Great blog tim! Again!

    I thought Messi was excellent against arsenal too. Hes a excellent pass and mover, and alot more than just a dribbler. Hes not xavi but hes not far off.

    Do you feel that Mardona has figured out how to use messi in a national shirt then?

  • Comment number 3.

    Got to say, it's great to read a blog where I agree with 100% of the posts - I think this too Ottski. It's why I struggle to regard CR in the same category as the Zico's and Platini's... Whilst he is very obviously an athlete of the highest order, with fantastic individual attributes ets, you wonder if he has the fotballing brain of the aforementioned. Or Messi.

    But I thought Messi had rather a good game against Arsenal... he might not have torn them a new one as he did against Zaragoza & Valencia recently, but he had Song chewing grass on a couple of occasions early doors, and tested Almunia more than once.

    My mate was saying he thinks Di Maria could be a dark-horse in the tournie... just wonder what frontline Maradona will choose though.

  • Comment number 4.

    In no possible way are Barcelona a one man team like so many others. If Messi wasn't playing at all they would still be too strong for most teams. Sure, they would miss a world class player, but not to the extent Man U for example would miss Rooney.

  • Comment number 5.

    Great read as always!
    IMO Mascherano is equally important to Argentinas chances in the world cup.
    They have a lot of skilled attacking players in their squad like messi, di maria, aguero, tevez... veron's delivery is great... but their defence is suspect and without maschero at his best... they will struggle to make it past quater finals...

  • Comment number 6.

    Great blog as usual. The criticism of Messi wasn't surprising, we live in a desperately shallow age where many people don't seem able to consider an individual's contribution within the context of his team - hence selfish goal hunters like Ronaldo are praised above intelligent team players such as Xavi. In the case of Messi, it is an absolutely fundamental part of his greatness that he can adapt his game to the team's requirements - for example last Wednesday he could sacrifice the riskier parts of his play in favour of keeping possession and unselfish movement (drawing defenders away from Ibrahimovic). Saturday provided another example - a mature playmaking display in a largely withdrawn role in the centre of the pitch, allowing Bojan to make the forward runs.

    I wouldn't be surprised to see Messi playing a decoy role in the WC - this could be especially useful if Aguero starts since the latter can struggle with the physical side against strong CBs.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good blog. Whilst I agree with most of what you have said, I do sometimes feel Messi can't reproduce his form against top sides. He did score a header in last year's final, but his role changed from dribbler/scorer to just another cog in Barcelona's metronomic passing system.

    In the world cup, I can see defenders bunching up on messi, leaving hopefully players like Higuain, Di Maria and Aguero space to run into.

  • Comment number 8.

    Excellent article Tim, its a shame most of the British readers don't see messi on a weekly basis and have to form their opinion based on the ratings given by the Sun after the game. ibra's second goal came because messi had dragged vermallen out of position. An excellent player who I bought the whole sky sports package just to watch him and his team play. Money well spent I say. Keep giving us your articles they really are the best on this site.

  • Comment number 9.

    Morning Tim
    Morning Ottski, and morning to the 8 month old.
    I'm in agreement. This is exactly what Arsenal should be aware of in the next leg at the Nou Camp. By flooding Messi, they thought they had Barca covered, but that was totally wrong. And the fact that all the possession in the first half was Barca's showed very well how Messi and co. managed it very well

  • Comment number 10.

    My criticism of Messi in the Phil blog is due to the fact that he goes missing more often than not in big games. The real driving force behind Barcelona is Xavi and Iniesta, you contain those and you have a great chance against them. Lets not forget that without the quality midfield of Barcalona at their disposal, Argentina really struggled in world cup qualifying, and only squeaked through in the last game.

    However, i am not suggesting for a moment that Messi is a bad player, i was responding to the argument that Messi is the best ever. He is not, (IMO i would say Maradona) you can't make a judgement like that when he is still early in his career, we need to judge him at the end of it.

    Also, I would argue that Ronaldo is actually better at the moment, because he has amazing skill combined with the most dreaded of abilities to a defence - lightning pace. Add to that he can strike an amazing free kick, is a brilliant header of the ball too, then you have a devastating forward. I dont care whether he is selfish or not, all the great players are.

    This world cup will prove to be very interesting, will it be the world cup where Messi/Ronaldo/Torres/Crouch stamp their authority on the tournament or will long seasons in Europe mean they are close to burnout come the big event....


  • Comment number 11.

    Morning (with a six month old who likes his lie-ins :D)

    I didn't think Messi was all that bad against Arsenal, even if by his own high standards he was slightly off colour.

    Still, even the greatest players ever didn't play to the best of their abilities every single game.

    The coming week is more important to Barca and Messi anyway, as it will be the return leg that decides who goes into the last four, and then there's the small matter of El Clásico at the weekend.

    My money is on Hail Messi blogs across the globe come next Monday. :)

    Club World Rankings.com

  • Comment number 12.

    My criticism of Messi in the Phil blog is due to the fact that he goes missing more often than not in big games.
    ------------
    You write this, then hilariously propose that Ronaldo is better, ignoring the many, many big games where Messi has been excellent.

    The real driving force behind Barcelona is Xavi and Iniesta, you contain those and you have a great chance against them.
    ------------
    This really is becoming a tired cliche. In the space of 4 games recently Messi scored 10 goals (including a hat-trick v the 3rd best side in Spain) - Xavi & Iniesta contributed nothing to those goals. Xavi is without doubt one of Barca's 2 best players - no serious watcher of La Liga suggests that Iniesta is more important than Messi.

  • Comment number 13.

    awesome blog tim, i love reading about your tactical insight and i, going to watch out for that now.

  • Comment number 14.

    Messi has been so dominant for Barcelona recently that it wouldn't surprise me if it was a deliberate intent of Guardiola for the players to use him differently, for a little while, like Tim says as a decoy. It will help them avoid becoming unpredictable and ensure he doesn't burn out.

    Messi's maturity seems to have accelerated in recent weeks and if he can transfer it to Argentina then they'll run Spain close this summer.

  • Comment number 15.

    Hi Tim,

    "
    According to Brazil's physical preparation specialists, at the time of that great Dutch side, players were running 5,000 metres per game. By the mid 90s this had doubled, and now some players are covering 13,000.
    "

    Mileage: that may be the reason for all the injuries to the modern footballer.

    Where earlier players ran 200km per season(40 odd games (league and cups) at 5000 meters each), todays top players are running around 650 km (50 league and cup games at 13000 metres).

    No wonder they are permanently conked.

  • Comment number 16.

    Excellent stuff Tim, which I can relate to personal experience.

    Back in high school in the inter-class football competition, the form 2's had a very deadly striker, he was very strong and had a very lethal eye for goal, and had a very ferocious shot. Like a young Rooney. Shame the dude is studying medicine now. :-(

    After dismantling the form 6's with 2 goals in the first match, they came up against the younger form 1's, who in fear had 4 PEOPLE employed to man-mark him. He changed his style into some sort of Heskey instead, holding up balls and laying it off for his fellow strikers who weren't slouches either, and they ran away with the match.

    Messi isn't that strong, but I'm sure he can play those superb one touches which can leave defenders in his wake, or create chances for his partners.

  • Comment number 17.

    Firstly, a cliche becomes a cliche for a reason - because there is truth in it.

    Secondly, name the big games where Messi has come to the party then. There can't be that many, as i can't recall them. With regards to Ronaldo going missing, i am not suggesting that great players have to perform amazingly in every single big game, that is just not realistic at all. But I would argue that Ronaldo has more tools at his disposal than Messi (at the moment at least).

    What can Messi do that Ronaldo can't do? Ronaldo is faster than Messi and subsequently can run past players better than Messi, can take better free kicks, can head the ball better than Messi, I would say the close ball control is equal. So tell me what area is Messi better than Ronaldo?

    Finally, i didn't say that Xavi and Iniesta are better than Messi, i said the driving force of the Barcelona midfield is Xavi and Iniesta, they allow Messi to be the player he is. Take them out of the team (i.e. like what happens at international level) then Messi is less effective.

    I appreciate you may love Messi, and he is a great player, but he is not the greatest - he has a long way to go to be that, but he has years ahead of him to do so.

  • Comment number 18.

    Oh, and I for one doesn't believe in the theory that Messi goes missing in big games. I'm trying to remember the number of big games he didn't perform in. Or are people only referring to last year's semi-final vs Chelsea, thus assuming that's his common trait?

    Moreover, I definitely agree that Xavi and Iniesta are the driving force in the midfield, but I disagree that Messi can't live without them. The number of solo efforts the guy has scored, or provided assists with are numerous. Maybe you guys should watch La Liga more, and stop being blind as well.

  • Comment number 19.

    Firstly, a cliche becomes a cliche for a reason - because there is truth in it.
    ------------
    In this case, a cliche becomes a cliche because some Utd fans base their Iniesta opinions on one CL final.

    Secondly, name the big games where Messi has come to the party then.
    -------------
    Can't really be bothered to answer this one - it's basically nearly every big game Messi's playing in for Barca. Last season alone should be sufficient evidence - the clasico, Copa Del Rey final, best player in the CL, etc.

    There can't be that many, as i can't recall them. With regards to Ronaldo going missing, i am not suggesting that great players have to perform amazingly in every single big game, that is just not realistic at all. But I would argue that Ronaldo has more tools at his disposal than Messi (at the moment at least).
    ------------
    Messi is a much more complete player, which is why he's heading both the goals & assists charts in Spain, and which is why he's changing his game each week to suit the team, as the blog discusses.

    What can Messi do that Ronaldo can't do? Ronaldo is faster than Messi and subsequently can run past players better than Messi, can take better free kicks, can head the ball better than Messi, I would say the close ball control is equal. So tell me what area is Messi better than Ronaldo?
    -------------------
    Hilarious. Messi's ball control is vastly superior to Ronaldo's - in fact Messi's close control at pace has probably no equal in football history. Iniesta has much better ball control than Ronaldo, never mind Messi. Messi is easily superior in most of the fundamental parts of football: touch, control, decision-making, passing, maturity, teamwork, vision, big game performances.

  • Comment number 20.

    Messiisgood, that's very true. Messi's close control is out of this world, Ronaldo's is nowhere as good as his. And surely Iniesta comes next.

    Moreover after Ronaldo grew up, he had to sacrifice his fancy dribbling to score more goals and get more assists. Messi didn't have to do that, his style has hardly changed, and still he scores a lot.

  • Comment number 21.

    Moreover after Ronaldo grew up, he had to sacrifice his fancy dribbling to score more goals and get more assists. Messi didn't have to do that, his style has hardly changed, and still he scores a lot.
    -------------------
    Precisely. All the hype & Youtube videos boil down to this one simple observation: Messi is much better than Ronaldo at the non-goal scoring parts of football, and he STILL scores more goals: 115 in 203 v 148 in 350. Messi's career strike rate (at the age of 22) is in fact better than that of Torres or Drogba, and he isn't even a centre forward.

  • Comment number 22.

    Why have the comments descended into the boring Messi v Ronaldo debate?

    I don't think this was the point of Tim Vickery's original blog, he did not even mention Cristiano Ronaldo.

    For some people, I've got to be honest - you're setting yourselves up. Messi is a brilliant player (so is Ronaldo, by the way) but Messi is not the player that some of you think he is, or hope that he is. Not yet anyway. Someone said Messi has the best touch and ball control ever. Um...memories that short, remember a certain Zinedine Zidane? Check out some of his touch and ball control skills on the old videos.

    I think that was the point of Tim Vickery's article- that Messi is so good that people expect miracles from him in every game, and some people have gone way over the top about him and ascribed almost superhuman status to him. The comparisons with other players are immensely boring, they're endless debates for pub bores frankly.

  • Comment number 23.

    SirMouseburger

    Messi tore Chelsea apart back when he was only about 17yrs. He simply made Del Horno and Robben look a bit stupid (just look at some of the footage, which culminated in DelHorno losing the plot and attempting to boot Messi into the next fortnight).

    He had an excellent game in the CL Final last year... scored with a superb header, which is about as hi-profile as you can get. He also rattled a hat-trick against Valencia a few weeks ago. And he scored a hat-trick against Real Madrid, as well as helping Barca tear them apart in the 6-2 game.

    Point being... you have no validation in saying he doesn't turn up in the big games.

    I remember a few years back, AC Milan visited Old Trafford, and it was billed in some ways as Kaka v CR.... Kaka subsequently ran the show. Ronaldo must have been wearing a camouflage strip. But I would never claim that Ronaldo goes missing in the big games simply on this basis (likewise Rooney being anonymous in the CL Final last year... which is hard to reconcile given the current form and the attempts by some quarters of the English media to label him 'the best in the word'.)

    If you apply the simple logic that most try to apply, which is basically blatant athletisism v footballing canny, then shouldn't we just bill CR7 as the best ever, forever, and be done with it? He ticks all the boxes, sure; He's great with his head (in some aspects anyways), he's two footed, lightning quick, can juggle like a seal with a beach-ball, tall, yaddah yaddah...

    Yet most agree that the best player of all time is varyingly described as a wee stumpy one-footed Argentine midget with dodgy knees who got kicked out of USA94 for being as high as the Burj Khalifa, and who's only famous header was a hander etc etc (please note, these are not my opinions). But I do think Diego is the greatest ever, and I'm sure most would agree.

    Go figure.

  • Comment number 24.

    Someone said Messi has the best touch and ball control ever. Um...memories that short, remember a certain Zinedine Zidane?
    ------------
    I wrote that Messi has perhaps the best control AT PACE ever. I mentioned Ronaldo because a previous poster did, although anything that punctures the absurd Ronaldo hype is probably a good thing.

  • Comment number 25.

    Going back to the blog itself (in a certain way).

    Tim (or anyone); have you any ideas or suggestions on how the Argies will line up at WC2010? Or even the forward line-up? Do you reckon Maradona would have the tactical canny to try and use Messi in such ways, or would the onus be on Messi himself to adapt his game for the benefit of the team etc?

    And will Veron have a wee Indian summer...?

    And is Demichelis really a donkey?

  • Comment number 26.

    Sigh, Ronaldo is more than an athlete. Rooney is more than just a 'physical english centre forward'

    Is it so mind-numbingly difficult to understand and appreciate that maybe the likes of Messi, Kaka, Iniesta, Rooney, Xavi, Torres, Villa and Ronaldo are all excellent players?

    When Maradona was around in the 1980s, you would have been very proud to have the likes of Platini, Zico, Socrates, Careca, Falcao, Belanov, Gullit, Van Basten and Roberto Baggio in your team as well.

    Do some of you get it? I read the comments and many of you inflate Messi to superhuman status and belittle other players because apparently this 'best player in the world' individualistic ego trip is so massively important.

    As I believe the point of Tim's original article was, he is emphasising that football is a TEAM game and the best players are the ones that are most productive for their team.

  • Comment number 27.

    Great point about teams winning titles. Greece in 2004 (and indeed Denmark in 1992) did not have the tournament's best players, but they were easily the best at playing as a team and deserved to win. We place far too much emphasis on individual players (was anyone really surprised that the Ivory Coast didn't do much in the African Cup of Nations)?

    Messi is a fantastic player, but even if Barcelona were missing him they still would have produced the same fantastic performance against Arsenal. It was the excellent pressing off the ball and brilliance in keeping the ball that Arsenal simply struggled to live with in the first 20 minutes. It's important to note that Barca were missing Iniesta for the match, who in my opinion, is one of the best players in the team, but they didn't look as though they missed him at all. This doesn't reflect badly on Iniesta as a player, but simply illustrates that Barcelona are a great team that play as a unit as well as being a team of excellent individuals. Equally, it's this concept that turned Chelsea into world beaters under Mourinho (one FA Cup since his departure is indicative of how easy it is to win even with a blank cheque) and why Man City are struggling against teams with a fraction of their expenditure.

  • Comment number 28.

    It was blindingly obvious from my point of view that Messi played in the hole to give Ibrahimovic freedom, the aim being to confuse the CB's into moving out of position which worked, it's not Messi's best position because he lacks experience in the role IMO

    Playing in the middle requires quicker thinking than playing wide, especially when opposition are deep (which Arsenal were once they realised they were in trouble) so Messi couldn't really be at his creative best (he was however clever enough to retain posession).

    Though there is still a part of me that wonders whether Xavi should have won the ballon d'or (I think he edged big game performance over Messi last season and did better at international level as well as being consistently 9 or 10 out of 10 in most games), Messi's greatness is there for all to see.

    A tactical weapon due to the vast array of talents he posesses, a wonderful creative player, a superb goalscorer and a team player with a strong, balanced mentality that will ensure he stays at the top.

  • Comment number 29.

    Can't really be bothered to answer this one - it's basically nearly every big game Messi's playing in for Barca.
    ------------
    That is a really sloppy answer, which suggests you can't actually provide specifics, so you loosely assert that he is great in every game, despite your earlier assertion that great players aren't necessarily great in every game (which i accept).


    In fact Messi's close control at pace has probably no equal in football history.
    -----------
    What a statement to make! I think your bias blinkers your objectivity.


    Iniesta has much better ball control than Ronaldo, never mind Messi.
    ----------
    Ha! I disagree, but we are all entitled to our opinions i suppose


    Messi is easily superior in most of the fundamental parts of football: touch, control, decision-making, passing, maturity, teamwork, vision, big game performances.
    ----------
    Wow, a lot of attributes

    touch - disagree
    control - disagree
    decision making - debateable
    passing - agree
    maturity - disagree
    teamwork - agree
    vision - debateable
    big game performances - disagree


    I would say that Ronaldo is lifting an average Real Madrid side (the fact that they got knocked out in the last 16 of the Champions league should give you a clue to their averageness) to a side that is challenging for La Liga. I think that sums up the contributions both make to their respective teams - take Messi out of Barcalona and they would still be challenging for the title, take Ronaldo out of Real Madrid's side and they would be a large gap between the top 2.

    Also, I think this shows that the strength in depth of La Liga is not actually that great - both Barcelona and Real Madrid are like 20 odd points ahead of 3rd place. It is like watching the Scottish Premier League...

  • Comment number 30.

    I thought Messi played well. He has a good chance in the first half and although he didn't score was positive.

    But credit to Arsenal. They managed to hang in there. Not many teams in La Liga or the Champions League have managed to come back from a two goal deficit against Barcelona.

  • Comment number 31.

    Can't really be bothered to answer this one - it's basically nearly every big game Messi's playing in for Barca.
    ------------
    That is a really sloppy answer, which suggests you can't actually provide specifics, so you loosely assert that he is great in every game, despite your earlier assertion that great players aren't necessarily great in every game (which i accept).
    -------------
    Sigh, last season then: v Atletico x 2 (including Copa hat trick), x Real x 2 (including devastating performance at the Bernabeu), x Valencia, v Sevilla, v Lyon, v Bayern, v Utd, top scorer in the CL, etc etc. If you're really bothered you might like to check out Messi's goals history: his record is better against Spain's top sides than against the weaker ones.

    In fact Messi's close control at pace has probably no equal in football history.
    -----------
    What a statement to make! I think your bias blinkers your objectivity.
    -----------
    I know quite a lot about football history, and I can't think of a player with Messi's level of control at such pace.


    Iniesta has much better ball control than Ronaldo, never mind Messi.
    ----------
    Ha! I disagree, but we are all entitled to our opinions i suppose
    ----------
    Well it's demonstrable in every game Iniesta's played in the last 2 years, but still. Iniesta is probably the only player around with Messi-like control.


    Messi is easily superior in most of the fundamental parts of football: touch, control, decision-making, passing, maturity, teamwork, vision, big game performances.
    ----------
    Wow, a lot of attributes

    touch - disagree - Raul would agree with me.
    control - disagree - see above.
    decision making - debateable - incredibly obvious. Ronaldo's comical selfishness is a standing joke for many La Liga fans.
    passing - agree - great.
    maturity - disagree - I'd say Messi's the most mature 22yr old player I've seen, but then I'm biased.
    teamwork - agree - great.
    vision - debateable - in the sense that Ronaldo has very little vision.
    big game performances - disagree - Ronaldo is a master of flattering to deceive in big games.


    I would say that Ronaldo is lifting an average Real Madrid side
    -----------
    ...despite being outperformed in the league by Higuain, who has scored more league goals despite taking barely half the number of shots?

    I have nothing against Ronaldo, he's a very fine player. But there's a difference between a kind of effectiveness and outright genius.

  • Comment number 32.

    Sorry Phil, Your blogs are usually excellent, your right about football but wrong on this. I remember Messi being instrumental in the goal which put Chelsea out last season, that was good movement... he went onto the other side of the pitch... Thats fairly normal wing play in the modern day game. Robben and duff did it rather well for Chelsea's championship winning side... What it boils down to is very simple. The guy fails to reproduce anything like his best at international level. End of. go check out the stats. The side were a complete joke under Maradona and Messi was equally poor. His competitive international record also speaks volumes. 2006 - 5 Games, 1 goal one assist. 2007 - 4 games 2 goals one assist, 2008 8 games 2goals and 2 assists, 2009 11 games 2 goals 1 assist. Hardly the stuff of legends is it? The only reason people fawn over Messi is because he is playing in a league equivelent of the Scottish Premier League. La Liga is in demise due to the size of Barca and Real Madrid, those two clubs understand the falling value of the league they are in. Like many players migrating to Celtic or Rangers from Scotlands lower leagues the same happens in La Liga.... The only reason people say it is a good league is simply due to its exposure on tele and news. Yes its technically better than Scottish football. Its on a par with the prem... But Messi in the best league in the world, I doubt he'd cut the mustard week in week out. If you can stop him turning against a defence, he's very predictable. Wrong wrong wrong on this one and i've had fun throwing this at football pundits I've had the chance of meeting - would love to hear your response.

  • Comment number 33.

    The guy fails to reproduce anything like his best at international level. End of.
    --------
    Not 'end of' at all, since Messi's played very well in a number of international games, and in any case international football is of lower quality than top club football.

  • Comment number 34.

    Not 'end of' at all, since Messi's played very well in a number of international games, and in any case international football is of lower quality than top club football.
    ------------------------
    Spain may disagree.....

  • Comment number 35.

    There is a great quote by the great Michael Jordan that says:

    "There are plenty of teams in every sport that have great players and never win titles. Most of the time, those players aren't willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. The funny thing is, in the end, their unwillingness to sacrifice only makes individual goals more difficult to achieve. One thing I believe to the fullest is that if you think and achieve as a team, the individual accolades will take care of themselves. Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships."

    I think Messi well depicts what Jordan had in my mind when describing individualism vs. team work.

  • Comment number 36.

    Reading this brilliant piece reminded me that this is exactly what Pele did against England in Guadalajara in 1970. You can see Pele pull the English defence out of position just enough to allow Jairzinho in to score.

    Messi has a psychological presence on the pitch both for his team mates as well as the opposition. Argentina are a threat to any team for this reason alone, especially in a tournament when the team have time to develop ideas together.

  • Comment number 37.

    33... well.. So has Steven gerrard, Lampard, Gallas, Del Piero... they have all played well at international level. Point being? Im not so sure about the debate about club football being better. There is more cohesion to it from day in day out training, but that doesn't stop Brazil now does it? Or hows about remembering Messis performance and that of the team around him in the 6-0 destruction of serbia and montenegro back in 2006? Englands 5-1 over Germany?

  • Comment number 38.

    Not 'end of' at all, since Messi's played very well in a number of international games, and in any case international football is of lower quality than top club football.
    ------------------------
    Spain may disagree.....
    -------------
    Spain are the exception. Most international teams struggle to play fluid football, understandably since the players only meet up a few times per year and some teams have, to put it kindly, eccentric managers (France, Argentina). It's a hyped competition but the CL still has a better quality of football than the WC or Euros these days.

  • Comment number 39.

    I don't think Argentina are strong enough in midfield to use Messi as a decoy, they need to get the best out of him and for me that means playing him at RWF.

    My front six would be:

    Mascherano Aimar Cambiasso

    Messi Higuain Di Maria

    With full backs who can get forward, like Zanetti.

  • Comment number 40.

    @ SirMouseburger, can you name just one big game performance from a certain Cristiano Rolando? just one against the likes of Liverpool, Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal, Ac Milan? but all of us witnessed superb big game performances of Messi against Chelsea (remember 2006), Manchester, team of the century Real Madrid ( in fact in numerous games, Bayer Munich, Valencia, Seville, Athletic Madrid? and have you ever thought about where would Real Madrid would be without the goals of a certain Gonzalo? i don't u did! Sorry from digressing from the theme of the blog though!

  • Comment number 41.

    jonesstrikesback

    You seem rather ignorant, self-contradictory, and frankly deluded.

    Arguably the best striker in the world (David Villa) plies his trade in La Liga (in a team outside of the top 2) along with the players voted the best players in the world over the last 3 years.

    Outside of Barca and Real, you have the likes of Valencia (with the aforementioned Villa) Sevilla (who tore Real apart a few months back), Villareal, even Atleti etc... (whom I remember playing Liverpool off the park in their encounter, only to succumb to a dodgy penalty).

    It's hard to look at the likes of Burnley, Bolton, Wolves, Stoke, Portsmouth, etc and believe they provide the same opposition as even the likes of Bilbao, Deportivo, Zaragoza etc.

    And if we are talking about exposure, then La Liga doesn't hold a candle to the P'ship, which is about as obvious a statement as one could make. Sky has raised the EPL's profile above any other league in the world.

    And whilst I will agree that Messi hasn't convinced as much on the International stage, we need look no further than the stats of the 'other' best player in the world to notice that he hardly sets the heather ablaze with Portugal either. And whilst I doubt anyone would question the likes of Lampard and Gerrard's quality, we are all too familiar with the endless debate of why they too are frequently posted missing on the international stage. And to further reiterate... look at Fabregas. Point being - It's not a quandary unique to Messi.

  • Comment number 42.

    I don't think Argentina are strong enough in midfield to use Messi as a decoy, they need to get the best out of him and for me that means playing him at RWF.

    My front six would be:

    Mascherano Aimar Cambiasso

    Messi Higuain Di Maria

    With full backs who can get forward, like Zanetti.
    --------------
    I like this team, although here too I think Messi would be used as a decoy at times, dragging across defenders so that passes can be spread to Di Maria on the other side. Certainly I think Di Maria should play to take some of the pressure away from Messi.

  • Comment number 43.

    Without doubt, the greatest player in the world. The level he has reached last season and this has been on another level to anyone. Even Ronaldo when he scored 42 goals couldn't repeat it the next season. I was thinking, is he as good as Ronaldinho was at Barca when he was the best player in the world? And all you have to do is look at the statistics. Between 2003 and 2006 Ronaldinho scored 61 goals for Barca, won 2 leagues and the Champions League. Incredibly, in the last 2 seasons 2008 to 2010 (and we haven't even finished!) Messi has scored 73 goals, and won every trophy in the book. As these two are probably the best 2 players of the last decade, it is easy to why Messi - the player of the generation, is being compared to the best ever.

    This world cup is his chance to shine. If Argentina can get him the ball quickly, and they focus on this, he has a great chance to demonstrate his remarkable talent on the world stage, and they have a great chance to win the world cup. The reason people in England were so critical of Messi is because they want him to fail. They hear the hype, probably haven't even seen him play in La Liga, and are automatically looking for every fault or non-contribution. Fact, he won't be proven by one game against Arsenal. He is already FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d'Or holder, and is having a season which will better the one he had last year. Add to that his sensational performances 4 games in a row, maintaining a level no one else could achieve in both the league and the Champions League, it is easy to see why there is so much expectation.

    The problem for Messi will come if Argentina fail to replicate the service he gets at Barca. He doesn't need time and space, but he does need the ball, ideally before there is 10 men behind it. Argentina have other talented players who can score goals, but plan A should always be Messi.

  • Comment number 44.

    Can someone clarify the size of the Nou Camp pitch, compared to the one at the Emirates?

    I've seen it said many times by lots of people that Messi will run riot against the Gunners because the pitch is so big in Barca, but is it?

  • Comment number 45.

    The only reason people fawn over Messi is because he is playing in a league equivelent of the Scottish Premier League. La Liga is in demise due to the size of Barca and Real Madrid, those two clubs understand the falling value of the league they are in. Like many players migrating to Celtic or Rangers from Scotlands lower leagues the same happens in La Liga.... The only reason people say it is a good league is simply due to its exposure on tele and news.

    ########################

    All i can say is lol. To compare la liga with the SPL is ludicrous. You trying to say Valencia are hibs and Sevilla, who destroyed rangers 4-1 earlier, and who are struggling for 4th, are aberdeen? Insanity.

    You seen last year how good la la liga is. Liverpool somehow got 2 draws out of atheltico, the most unstable club of all time, depite being detroyed in both games. I also rememeber the dodgiest penalty ever for gerrard in the last minute to get them off the hook! And that was liverpools best season in 20 years!

    Please dont drag la liga down. Its clearly better than the premier league, just sky pundits have trouble accepting it. Imagine zaragoza vs wigan? Both in similair positions in their leagues. No doubt who would win lad, same with lets see, villareal vs birmingham. Again, villaral clearly superior. Thats shows how strong la liga is.

    Dont confuse the £100m debt and 70k a week paypackets to wasters at west ham with actually being good my friend

  • Comment number 46.

    I like this team, although here too I think Messi would be used as a decoy at times, dragging across defenders so that passes can be spread to Di Maria on the other side. Certainly I think Di Maria should play to take some of the pressure away from Messi.
    --------------
    Makes sense, Messi has the ability to pull back fours right across leaving acres of space on the other side (allowing Henry last season and Pedro this season to get in at will).

    Becasue Argentina aren't a posession side like Barca the effect won't be as much (if it was i'd suggest playing a forward on the left like Aguero) but it will be enough to give Di Maria enough space to use his brilliant left-foot to do some damage.

  • Comment number 47.

    Tim, You got to admit messi was stopped by the likes of song,clichy and our defence we didnt give him a chance on the ball thats why he didnt play that well. Messi is a world class player no doubt but hes not a mardonna you cant make comparasions to other people its just stupid and i dont understand why people do that it just makes pressure on the player which is not understandable.

    Mardonnas style was much different to be honest to messis and what he did for argentina and his clubs down years cannot be broken thats how special he is. But yet every single south american player that comes from brazil or argentina to play in europe people keep on making these bold comparisions for example wasnt it klberson i think in the 2002 world cup was the ''next pel''e or or angel di maria i recall was also called the ''next mardonna'' when he came to benfica. Every player has hes own style and every player will go done in history for doing something but messi to mardonna comparisions people should just stop right there.

  • Comment number 48.

    Makes sense, Messi has the ability to pull back fours right across leaving acres of space on the other side (allowing Henry last season and Pedro this season to get in at will).
    --------------
    It's because of this that I think Di Maria could have a very good WC. It also makes sense to pick a RB who can attack - Messi will be moving more centrally at times, especially against the big teams, and Argentina really suffered from a lack of width in qualifying.

    Gavelaa - great post.

  • Comment number 49.

    This is an excellent article, really enjoyed reading it, and I'm glad to know that my idea of blaming an individual for a side losing a goal or a game is ridiculous in the modern game as it means that the rest of the team have not been doing their jobs correctly isn't only in my mind.

  • Comment number 50.

    Just a wee point, and not looking to change the topic at hand, but in fact most who have seen both play rate Pele the greatest ever, and those of us who do, do so by a comfortable margin. This will likely change as fewer and fewer have actually seen Pele play, much less in person.

    It's all youtube ratings these days, sadly, with a slant for current players that results in ridiculous assertions, such as labelling Messi the greatest ever. The one thing I will say for Messi, however, is that he is the greatest close control dribbler since Romario, even if, speaking of close control in general, posters are all to quick to forget about Zidane, who had glue on his boots!

  • Comment number 51.

    Tim, You got to admit messi was stopped by the likes of song,clichy and our defence we didnt give him a chance on the ball thats why he didnt play that well.

    ____________________

    Just, no. Messi didn't have a bad game at all, he didn't single handedly rip Arsenal to bits, but he played his vital, integral role in the team. People seem to think that Barca are just a one man team but they're not. If Messi doesn't 'shine' then it doesn't mean the team won't do well. They need him in the side, yes, but he doesn't have to win the game on his own. This is the point of this article, Barca just work so well as a team, and Messi is an integral part of that, even on a quiet day he is still pulling strings.

  • Comment number 52.

    Legends aren't born there made, but in the modern world it seems legends are made all to easily off the back of an overzealous media and clever marketing. Where's the likes of Pelé and Alfredo di Stéfano had to earn their legends from careers of consistent brilliance, nowadays, players only need a couple of good seasons and some eye catching performances in high profile matches to earn similar praise. This leads to the inevitable build them up and then knock them down culture when they fail to live up to the ridiculous levels of expectation placed upon them.

    Messi seems as if he's about to become the latest victim of this culture, following in the footsteps of Brazil's Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Undeniably a great talent, but one with much still to prove; Messi's status as the worlds best player just isn't enough for the hyper-bowl world we live in; so at 22 he has to be gravitated to the status of an all time great, a status he's far from deserving yet and one that he may find impossible to live up to.

  • Comment number 53.

    Not my favourite blog I'm afraid. Would prefer to read about lesser known South American players and teams. Bit sick of reading about Messi.

    I take the point on Zagallo and I do agree that often the armchair fan doesn't see what occurs off the ball.

    Centre Forwards carry out this role a lot too, Careca or Batistuta being my favourite South Americans making darting runs, pulling defenders left, right and centre.

  • Comment number 54.

    #45 You seen last year how good la la liga is. Liverpool somehow got 2 draws out of atheltico, the most unstable club of all time, depite being detroyed in both games. I also rememeber the dodgiest penalty ever for gerrard in the last minute to get them off the hook! And that was liverpools best season in 20 years!

    ________________

    Liverpool may have got a dodgy penalty, but they were the ones creating all the chances at Anfield. There were in no way destroyed by Atletico, in either game. But without doubt, La Liga is an incredibly strong league. It has more depth than the Premier League. The spending power of the top two is disproportionate to the rest of the league, but this really has been exaggerated from last summer, when both teams made crazy signings. In a normal season, i.e. when Real aren't breaking more than one world transfer record and Barca aren't paying £65m for a Berbatov-upgrade (only joking, he's not really much like Berbatov), then the league becomes a whole lot more competitive. Both teams could get to 100 points this season, and there is only 8 games left. They really have dominated, but Barca are the best team in the world through merit, and Madrid have just had the biggest spending spree ever. Things will calm down in a season or two and the other quality Spanish teams will be a lot more competitive in the league.

    I do wish people would stop mugging off the league though. It really is silly.

  • Comment number 55.

    The risk of an attacking RB for Argentina is the lack of defensive cover, cos Messi isn't the best covering winger in the world. Argentina gave the ball away a lot in qualifying and if they play with an attacking right back they'll leave big gaps for counter attacks. And I still don't believe Argentina have got the best out of him.

    And bringing up Messi's goal scoring record seems a bit ridiculous. I can't think of any other team in the world that has players who can supply balls of the quality that Iniesta, Xavi, Dani Alves, Maxwell (plus another forward to occupy defenders worth €70 million - Ibra). So comparisons to other players goal scoring records are irrelevant,unless thats all you want to quantify success on and then Fernando Peyroteo must be up there as the greatest of all time - 346 goals in 207 matches (including internationals, though this is purposefully a slightly ridiculous example).

    I don't think Messi had that good a game against Arsenal. Firstly Arsenal had a very part time centre back playing for lots of the match (Song) and Vermaelen and Song appeared not to be communicating at all (Almunia seems to be particularly poor at this too). He wasn't clinical and didn't exploit Arsenal's defensive weakness. He got a decent amount of ball and I'm not convinced that he was genuinely responsible for Ibra's goals (I think poor communication and Vermaelen's feeling that as the senior defender he should take responsibility were more responsible - i.e I believe if Gallas had played the result would have been different).

    People argue that because Messi is so good others want to knock him down, but the reverse also happens. Because Messi is so good people are always looking to somehow show how he played the key role in every match. Therefore if he ever has a quiet match its because he was a "decoy". We need to face that he is still human and doesn't play great every game. No player ever has. We need to accept that he isn't perfect and sometimes he isn't as good as at others.

  • Comment number 56.

    And bringing up Messi's goal scoring record seems a bit ridiculous.
    -------------
    ...it was merely a counter. Truthfully I hardly consider goalscoring records when rating a player, decision-making is more important. I would say Messi's performance v Arsenal was a 7 out of 10.

    Agree about Argentina's lack of defensive cover, however they will need to take some chances if they want to win the WC.

  • Comment number 57.

    For those making ill judged comments on the quality of La Liga vis-a-vis the premiership, try watching a mid-table or a bottom of the table clash in the respective leagues then make your assessment.

    Gavelaa, I think making a comparison between Ronaldinho & Messi may be inaccurate. Apart from the difference in roles, the Barca that Ronaldinho was walking into was not the same Barca that Messi walked into. When Ronaldinho joined, Barca was clearly struggling he had an immense impact on Barca that cannot be underestimated.

  • Comment number 58.

    Messi played well, as you say Tim. However, in the second half i think he deliberately started taking it easier. I think he must be feeling a little tired after his recent exertions and he needed to conserve energy for what has been and will be an incredibly stressful and important 10 days for him.

  • Comment number 59.

    Messi's goals are just one example of his brilliance. He plays as a winger and forward, yet he is outscoring consistently all of the strikers around him. Yes he plays in a great team that provide him with chances, but he more than returns the compliment. Last season it was Eto'o, this it's Ibrahimovic. And it is the quality of goals too. He scores poachers' goals, headers, long range shots, penalties, free kicks, dribbles, one on ones, angled shots - the lot. He has got every trick in the book, and the best thing about him? Never has he ever needed to use a step over. His dribbling is the best thing about his game obviously, something that well and truly is comparable with Maradona. I'm not sure if his ability with the ball is as good, only time will tell when we compare at the end of his career, but it is shaping up nicely for him.

  • Comment number 60.

    Fantastic blog Phil, just as always.

    There are alot of pundits who use the 'He had a quiet game' and 'wasn't as effective as usual' lines who could be doing with reading this.

    The ability to be effective in a team by doing what is necessary to help others to shine is too often overlooked. Whilst we love the bits of brilliance that Messi offers, he has always been a team player and that makes him an important player for the team without the ball or when he is keeping other opponents occupied to allow the rest of the team to flourish.

  • Comment number 61.

    Maradona won the World Cup in 86 by 'dragging players out wide'? I thought he did that by scoring goals only he could score: one with tricky feet and the other with a tricky hand.

  • Comment number 62.

    Excellent blog by Phil, but the following comments have degenerated into a dull pub-bore "debate" about whether Ronaldo or Messi, or the Premiership or La Liga etc. are better than the other. The exact point that Phil was trying to make (that it can be misleading to compare individual players when the effectiveness of their teams is what ultimately matters) is being drowned out in exceptionally dull dialogues where people can't understand the difference between facts and opinions.

  • Comment number 63.

    While I would agree that selfless football is great to see and players like Messi can contribute a lot without credit at times, ie. on Wednesday, still I think people can go too far the other way when critisizing someone like Ronaldo for being too selfish. Frank Lampard commented the other day when asked how it felt to score again after going through a bit of a barren spot, he said it was good, but he doesn't let his head drop when not scoring and tries to keep his confidence up to keep on having a go. Many people will hold players like Ronaldo and Lampard up as selfish (especially after all Lamp's shots with no return in WC2006) but I think he has a point about the bravery it takes in continueing to attempt to score no matter if you look foolish. As an Arsenal fan I have watched many of our midfielders in past recent seasons not show this bravery to have a go and for that reason I spent a lot of time screaming at the likes of Hleb to "shoot" instead of providing another one of his "selfless" (or spineless?) passes in the box. Scoring is a nessicary part of winning in football and it is hardly selfish to attempt to do that, if Ronaldo hadn't tried a shot from 40 yards agains Porto last year United may never have reached the final for instance.

  • Comment number 64.

    Fantastic blog as always Tim. Just wanted to say about the Messi/Ronaldo debate, although Ronaldo has fantastic pace and probably is a little quicker than Messi, there's no way his control in terms of dribbling is anywhere as good. At times Messi has no right to keep the ball when taking on players but because his feet are so quick and his sublime control he somehow does. Messi doesn't really use fancy tricks or extreme pace to go past players instead using his quick feet and control.

    As for the arsenal game, its testament to messi and barca that he doesn't even have to have much of the ball for them to play breathtaking football. As said his psychological presence is enough to unsettle teams. Arsenal did a good job of keeping him quiet and yet it was to no avail.

  • Comment number 65.

    Maradona's name has been mentioned by people who clearly weren't around to see him perform. Maradona pretty much won the 1986 World Cup, including scoring the WC 'goal of the century', where he ran over half the pitch at pace and his control was such that he dribbled past half the English team.

    When Messi has done something similar then someone can seriously propose that he has the best control at pace ever. Until then they should take the advice of Confucius and remain silent.

  • Comment number 66.

    Wow. What a fascinating and well-informed piece about the evolution of football formations. Thanks Tim.

  • Comment number 67.

    why is Spains League better than the premiership? Its funny that the likes of Stoke can match Arsenal beat them... The Wigans of the world can beat Chelsea yet because the game is played at a different pace, everyone believes it to be better. I used the SPL because it is more similar than disimilar. There will only be one of two teams who can win it and the rest play for the loose change. I personally think the Bundesliga is more exciting than La Liga. I guess my point here is that fact that you couldn't fault the theory in the international stats, or the fact that Messi can be shackled in games, but can score a shed load of goals against weaker oppositio in a weak league. Only Barca are representing Spanish football in the champs league just like last and you try and compare the prem and la liga. I think the EPL has shown its strength for the last five years and more. Funny how people cant take on the valid point that Messi fails to reproduce his form at the top levels. Dare I say it he's a flat track bully... Much Like Ronaldo. I cant remember too many people saying John Barnes lit up the world stage. he was frustrating. It happens, I maintain La liga's a worsening division, as Real madrid and Barcelona allude to with their TV rights if im not mistaken, hence why they dont go for an all in all out split of TV money. If Barca are so good, why did Arsenal score two goals? the defending in la liga is woeful, hence the reasons why Villa et all can score so many.

  • Comment number 68.

    @ JoC post 44
    "Can someone clarify the size of the Nou Camp pitch, compared to the one at the Emirates?

    I've seen it said many times by lots of people that Messi will run riot against the Gunners because the pitch is so big in Barca, but is it?"

    That is indeed often reported, but is in fact FALSE, the pitch at the Nou Camp is smaller than at the Emirates;
    Camp Nou pitch size - 105 metres length X 68 metres width
    Emirates pitch size - 113 metres Length X 76 metres width.

  • Comment number 69.

    Surely, if indeed Messi did 'go missing', it is precisely this sort of match, when your team is so utterly dominant, that you can afford to do so?

    Messi did not stand out because the rest of the Barcelona team were so good against Arsenal. Watch the game again and see how many times Messi lost possession of the ball - hardly ever. But an 'average' performance - which still involved a couple of good runs and several shots which tested the keeper - went unnoticed because of the brilliance of the team around him.

    In this particular match every single Barcelona player put in an outstanding performance.

  • Comment number 70.

    Top notch, Tim. Congratulations on permanently coming up with great quality material about football, not just a game.

    Your analysis hints that Barcelona have a few game plans under their belt. It is obviously much easier to have them with so many great players at Guardiola's disposal.

    This flexibility to adjust will be crucial at the World Cup. What is your view on Brazil's, Argentina's and Chile's ability to come up with something unexpected?

    Everyone says Brazil thrive against whoever takes the game to them, but struggle against minnows who defend deep. How will they come against big guns who defend deep? You spotted how Maradona found a pattern for Argentina. But other coaches will know about it and exploit its weaknesses. What will Maradona come up with to tactically counter attack that? What may Bielsa have learnt from their qualification defeat by Brazil, which exposed all the flaws of his plan A?

    Cheers

  • Comment number 71.

    great blog.

    I said it before and ill say it again, you can criticise him all you want, but he doesnt need to be dribbling the ball around everyone to be effective. He dragged the arsenal players out for ibrahimovic to go clean in on goal, thats an effective player right there.

    I still think most of the criticism is out of jealousy more than anything else, jealousy that he has elevated himself so far above other players in the current world of football, and jealousy that he doesnt ply his trade in england.

    Ive actually just read someone saying he doesnt often turn up in big games, all you can really do is laugh at nonsense like that. Because scoring 38 goals last season, one in the copa del rey final, one in the champions league final, and the winning goal in the world club cup final isnt turning up in big games?

    then you have his hat-trick against real madrid, his 3 goals against madrid last season? his one man performance against Manchester Utd at OT in 2008. Theres been countless, people who are desperate for him to fail are the ones who try to downplay his achievements.

    Its easy to forget hes only 22, i actually fear for him in the world cup, because the argentines are quite ruthless and he'll be under immense pressure for a player so young.

    Anyway, great article Tim, who do you fancy for the Champions League right now?

  • Comment number 72.

    "When Messi has done something similar then someone can seriously propose that he has the best control at pace ever. Until then they should take the advice of Confucius and remain silent."

    I'm afraid voting_only_ecourages_them it is perhaps you who should take this advice on board yourself as messi provided almost a mirror image of that Maraddona goal a season or two ago in a spanish cup, I've even seen a youtube split screen of the two goals side by side to show how similar they are. More to the point Walcott ran through pretty much the entire Liverpool team from one box to the other before but that doesn't make him one of the all time greats. You say it's because you watched Maroddona that your such an authority so how come you evaluation of him and system of comparison comes down to one goal that anyone could watch any moment in a youtube clip?

  • Comment number 73.

    A fascinating article Tim!

    I admit that I was frustrated by Messi's second-half performance on Wednesday. After a busy first-half, he seemed almost uninterested in the second. However, having read your article, I understand that there was method to this seeming madness. He's deep positions in midfield, after all, led to one of the two Arsenal centre-halves being dragged forward, allowing Ibrahimovic to race in to the space vacated and score Barca's two goals.

    Thanks for clearing that up for me!

  • Comment number 74.

    why do people always think this blog was written by phil?
    Tim=Messi
    Phil=???

  • Comment number 75.

    By-passing everything this article's about and jumping into the La Liga V PL discussion, I think people are looking at things in the wrong way.

    Yes, the bottom half of La Liga is full of clubs playing attractive football and the standard of play is far superior. However, if you're a club that can attract the most talented footballers, succeeding in such an open league shouldn't be much of a problem. How can you compare going to an easy-going coastal town in Spain and playing a nice open game against weak opposition to turning up on a mid-week night in December to play a vicious anti-footballing Northern side in front of a hostile & vocal crowd.

    The PL's a whole lot tougher... even if it isn't pretty to watch at times.

  • Comment number 76.

    Erdles - Only One Aaron Ramsey # 75

    1st question; if what you suspect is true, then it may indeed show why the 'most talented footballers' continually choose to play in Spain.

    Furthermore, though, I think you are subscribing to a stereotpyical foereign perception of Spain from bygone age - Osasuna and Bilbao are 2 rather tough Northern sides themselves, and you just need to ask any Real fan how unappealing a trip to the San Mames is for Madrid - very much not "an easy-going coastal town". The Riazor long had a reputation as one of Europe's toughest arenas, and Deportivo had a fantastic record there, especially during their purple patch a few short years ago. And then you look at the Mestalla etc.

    Bottom line - you correctly pointed out that the standard of play is superior (certainly technically)... and if we simply propose that the EPL is a whole lot tougher... well, playing on a drookit Wednesday night up in Fife wouldn't exactly endear the likes of Kaka or Higuain etc either... you catch my point.

  • Comment number 77.

    Play well, play smart and get a good result. Do not try to keep the good results in the last 10 minutes but the game play wise and clever to the end until the last second. I want to see anything from the English disease, where all 11 players behind the ball and be near their own box. And wasting time on the corner flag I want to see any more. If you heeded that we can celebrate many more successes together than in the past.
    Good luck England! A "Anglofeel" German from Saxony.

  • Comment number 78.

    Apologies - 1st question; if what you suspect is true, then may it indeed show why the 'most talented footballers' continually choose to play in Spain?


    (The hazards of reading blogs in your office...)

  • Comment number 79.

    # 74

    I know, they think it is Mcnulty's blog and so repeat the same arguments about the bleeding obvious and the so-called "biggest and best".

    I think #55 makes a valid opening point. Maradona may prefer to stick with a flat back 4 and leave Zanetti in Italy. The benefits will be a stubborn defence with Masch providing back-up in front of them.

    This will permit Messi, Di Maria et al. to roam free.

  • Comment number 80.

    17. At 10:50am on 05 Apr 2010, SirMouseburger wrote:
    Firstly, a cliche becomes a cliche for a reason - because there is truth in it.

    Secondly, name the big games where Messi has come to the party then. There can't be that many, as i can't recall them. With regards to Ronaldo going missing, i am not suggesting that great players have to perform amazingly in every single big game, that is just not realistic at all. But I would argue that Ronaldo has more tools at his disposal than Messi (at the moment at least).

    What can Messi do that Ronaldo can't do? Ronaldo is faster than Messi and subsequently can run past players better than Messi, can take better free kicks, can head the ball better than Messi, I would say the close ball control is equal. So tell me what area is Messi better than Ronaldo?

    Finally, i didn't say that Xavi and Iniesta are better than Messi, i said the driving force of the Barcelona midfield is Xavi and Iniesta, they allow Messi to be the player he is. Take them out of the team (i.e. like what happens at international level) then Messi is less effective.

    I appreciate you may love Messi, and he is a great player, but he is not the greatest - he has a long way to go to be that, but he has years ahead of him to do so.

    ------------------------------------------

    you need to stop watching football because its clearly just not for you.

    you cant tell me ronaldo has equal ball control to messi and expect to be taken seriously. You also need to ask yourself why Messi is scoring more goals than ronaldo (he hasnt had the 5 or 6 penalties ronaldo has had, and he rarely hits barcas free kicks) and why hes creating way more than ronaldo.

    Just give up on football and go and post at cristianoronaldo.com if you cant contribute serious and honest opinions to the discussion.

    Passing, vision, agility, balance, acceleration, dribbling, finishing. Theres a few things messi has over ronaldo. I know you might not be the brightest, so for clarification, he can accelerate faster from a standing start, im well aware that in full stride ronaldo is faster.

  • Comment number 81.

    I reckon Messi is probably one of the best players in Europe alongside Wayne Rooney, and of course his Barca team-mates Xavi and Iniesta.
    ...and while Ronaldo has all his goalscoring ability, he isn't a team player. All he looks to do is beat a player or score- he can't pass a ball or keep the game going anywhere near how Messi does (or the likes of Kaka- wasted by Real-, Rooney, Xavi or Iniesta).
    I reckon Messi will cause problems tomorrow in the useful manner of getting other players in the game as well as attacking contributions of course.

  • Comment number 82.

    Tim and Mr Mouseburger:

    Great analysis of the evolution of football, Tim.

    As for Mr. M Messi/Ronaldo/Torres/Crouch??? Did you really write this? I am choking on my cereal... God, I thought some people were funny but... and as to the comparison between Ronaldo and Messi, and between the Liga and the EPL, well... enough said.

    Regarding the opinions on Messi I will submit the acid test for most football lovers... forget the tactical considerations, you positivists! Answer the question below.

    Back in 1976 a friend of mine came to visit Buenos Aires and asked me what is there to see or do in town. I (a Boca Juniors fan since birth) got a hold of two tickets to go see tiny neighbourhood-based Argentinos Juniors vs. mighty River Plate and told him to come along and trust me.

    There was this tiny guy who was not even 16 and was making some noise, I told him. About two thirds of the people sitting in our seats were not fans of either team. They were there for sheer pleasure. Even River Plate fans towards the end of the game(same as Zaragoza and Valencia fans a couple of weeks ago) stood there applauding this wiry longhaired 'morochito' singlehandedly destroying (3-1 for AJ, two goals) their team and having Fillol on his bum the entire second half. Do you know who I am talking about?

    So the question is for the neutral fan: would you pay to go see Messi? Are you waiting to see the higlights in the night news? Did you see the turns of seemingly wooden defenders looking upfield while Lio motors to goal? Ask the players, forget us bloggers. The players know.

    By the way, talking about big matches, did anyone see Lio's goal that won the game vs. Estudiantes in Abu Dhabi last December, in the FIFA Club World Cup final? I submit that most times, when CR kicks he has no idea where the ball is going... when Messi 'kicks' (poor definition of the kind of treatment he gives the ball) most times, he knows where the ball is going.

    Let the kid play. And cut the envy, please.

  • Comment number 83.

    Messi got outmarked and outdone by arsenal ! arsene wenger is a true tactician and he knew to mess with messi ! and some idoits said he ripped us apart what did he do? seriously someone tell me what did messi do the whole night ! just admit messi was outmarked by arsenal he had no way ! alex song what a legend took the lad and everyone on this blog are shocked ? how is it a shock messi got outmarked and his record against english is rubbish thats his bogey side of things youlot need to watch the game, xavi and ibra was much better than messi, people think that messi is some of god but actually he is just a human like the rest of us.

  • Comment number 84.

    Nasri_is_the_French_Gooner

    You're a twit.

  • Comment number 85.

    "The overkill of the marketing industry means that there is more focus than ever before on the top individuals "

    Your article make it sound like the Brands force the players to take their money, force them to be hyped and over-rated and force them into the situation.

    The fact is that most players not only want it, but love it. The whole position of Forward/Striker is over-rated, year after year the strikers take the plaudits, yet it is the mid-field that wins the games, this is effectivly illustrated when teams play against other top teams, cram 5 into the midfield and cut off the supply, very few forwards, Messi included, ever then break the shackles.

    Forwards are generally the most over-rated and overhyped individuals on the pitch, the very nature of their position is selfish, they take their money, much more money normaly than as skilled midfielders/defenders and their extra marketing deals etc and they they are expected to live up to their own income driven hype.

    They make their bed, they lie in it, they'll never get sympathy from me.

    The opposite of the forward is the Keeper, only rarely do they get any plaudits, you never see them on the front cover of the computer games, or on anywhere near as many adds, they get blamed for almost all goals, even if the forward losing the ball caused the goal, the only time they ever out-plaudit a striker is if they save a penalty to win the game.

    Forwards are under pressure to perform, but nowhere near that of goalkeepers, and they at least get the plaudits and the money!

    Oh and to those saying Rooney isn't a team player (#81 in particular) have you EVER watched him play? How often does he track back? He tracked back so much that cappelo told him off for it! Several times this season he's got key headers in our own box on corners! He has often unselfishly passed to team-mates in a better postion, in particular last year he set up nearly a dozen of Ronaldo's goals! So maybe you should watch a game before running your mouth!

  • Comment number 86.

    "83. At 3:14pm on 05 Apr 2010, Nasri_is_the_French_Gooner wrote:
    Messi got outmarked and outdone by arsenal ! arsene wenger is a true tactician and he knew to mess with messi ! and some idoits said he ripped us apart what did he do? seriously someone tell me what did messi do the whole night ! just admit messi was outmarked by arsenal he had no way ! alex song what a legend took the lad and everyone on this blog are shocked ? how is it a shock messi got outmarked and his record against english is rubbish thats his bogey side of things youlot need to watch the game, xavi and ibra was much better than messi, people think that messi is some of god but actually he is just a human like the rest of us."

    yeh hes a tactical genius, he had about 4 players standing watching messi and Ibrahimovic walked in round the back all on his own and scored, bwhahahah!! brilliant.

    he had song on the deck a few times in the first half, he tested almunia twice. So he had a quite second half and was more closely watched, big deal. Some of you are missing the point of the whole article, he doesnt need to take the ball and try and dribble everyone every time to prove anything, hes a team player.


  • Comment number 87.

    Except even with Wengers tactics and Song's Marking, Messi still provided Ibra and Xavi with the space they needed to create a goal.

  • Comment number 88.

    It would be great if only South American players were mentioned...

    That means no C.Ronaldo, Rooney or Xavi.

    And the phrase "greatest ever" can't be used either (censorship i know)

  • Comment number 89.

    Okay, let's summarise...

    1. Anyone who thinks Messi had a bad game on Weds does not know anything about the TEAM sport called football.

    2. C. Ronaldo is and excellent player.

    3. L. Messi is an excellent player with the addition of playing for the TEAM as well as himself.

    4. Messi not only plays but wins the big games - again, anyone who says different does not watch world football.

    5. Taconazoredondo is correct - Nasri_is_the_French_Gooner is indeed, a twit.

    6. That really long Jesus film that started this morning, is still on!

  • Comment number 90.

    "87. At 3:20pm on 05 Apr 2010, jas788 wrote:
    Except even with Wengers tactics and Song's Marking, Messi still provided Ibra and Xavi with the space they needed to create a goal."

    ------------------------------

    that was the WHOLE point of Tims article. But it seems Mouseburger and Nasri whats his face didnt even bother with the article and just jumped in head first with the usual nonsense

  • Comment number 91.

    I was fortunate enough to be in the Azteca for the 86' final. From high in the stadium I have vivid memories of a flood of green shirted Germans rushing to one side of the pitch in order to close down Maradona only for him to thread through the pass for the winning goal.

    Be interesting to see if Messi can emulate it in the world cup, whilst the main thrust of this blog is spot on, it was disappointing that he badly squandered his clear chances on goal by shooting straight at Almunia.

  • Comment number 92.

    #91 - Rob.

    You lucky, lucky bast...

  • Comment number 93.

  • Comment number 94.

    That's right #90 the whole point is about movement, not 'who is the greatest?' - it is this talk that forces too much pressure upon ability.

    Association football is a team game, not an individual contest. Remember the great Cafu? He will never be talked about as the greatest of all time, but a player that allowed his colleagues to sparkle with his movement.

  • Comment number 95.

    So who will be Argentina's right back in South Africa, will Otamendi or Burdisso have to cover there?

    With Heinze at left-back it will be a back 4 comprised of centre-backs!!??

    Can't wait for the world cup, I think South American teams will shine (due to my weird 'if the earth was one island' geography theory) - Brazil to win, Agentina to entertain, and Chile/Paraguay to surprise many!

    How about a blog on Chile? I hear good things about them but know so little...

  • Comment number 96.

    yes, i'm jealous of rob (91) as well.

    i have no objection at all to being called phil, just as long as people don't expect me to cook. do know one recipe though - take a pinch of talent, two teaspoons of teamwork, add a clear idea, and it makes a grooving flavour!

  • Comment number 97.

    It is interesting to remember that Argentina, in particular Bilardo, were criticized before Mexico 86, especially over the selection of Maradona, who was vilified after his '82 sending-off.

    It's maybes the stuff of kismet, but it would be typical if Maradona exhibits a fair bit of acumen and both he & Messi manage to inspire Argentina in South Africa. But whether Maradona has the mindset of someone like Guardiola is another question.

  • Comment number 98.

    Messi is good, but I don't know if anyone's noticed he uses his left foot 90% of the time. If he can't use both, then he can't be compared to any of the 'great' players of all time. To me Rooney is a far better player.

  • Comment number 99.

    Eliot...

    Fair point. We'll just write off Maradona as well then.

    Why did you even bother posting that mate?

  • Comment number 100.

    If he can't use both, then he can't be compared to any of the 'great' players of all time. To me Rooney is a far better player.
    --------------
    By any measure, Messi has scored more great goals with his right foot than Rooney has with his left. He uses his left foot most of the time because it's natural & because it's the best left foot in the world.

 

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