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Messi’s a scary guy March 15, 2010

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Spanish soccer.
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Imagine you’re a defender marking Lionel Messi and the ball is coming towards the Argentine conjurer. Is there any more terrifying professional experience than that feeling of impending humiliation? That you know, within a matter of seconds, your face will contort in the same helpless grimace Messi slapped across the faces of Miguel Monteiro, Angel Dealbert and Cesar Sanchez for his hat trick tonight.

Has there ever been any more devastating dribbler than Messi? Perhaps he doesn’t have the spectacular creativity of movements Ronaldinho does, the forcefulness of Cristiano Ronaldo, the ruthless capacity to exploit defenders on the back foot of Diego Maradona or the unconventionality of Garrincha. What he does have is the ability to turn on the ball and carry it into a sea of perfectly positioned tacklers, only to emerge on the other side, the pure, improbable ability to seemingly keep the ball. It’s those incredibly subtle touches on the ball, the ones that put it into places so minutely unprecedented that flailing defensive feet could never have anticipated it.

There’s also a devastating array of other weapons at Messi’s disposal: even if he elects not to run with the ball, he can pass through the eye of a needle, shoot from distance, or take a foul. In short, he is the complete number 10, and Barcelona’s win against Valencia today was decided when Pep Guardiola made a switch that could allow him to use that ability most effectively.

Here are some other thoughts on that game:

  • Milito could keep Puyol out of the team. The undersized, understrength, relatively slow Argentine looks more like a rag doll than a center-back. But he has the intangibles for the job, the sense for what an attacker is doing and where the ball is going that, really, is what center back play is all about. He has the sense of timing to win headers, even to get wheeled forward for corner kicks — you could see he was no worse for wear despite playing against a center forward almost a foot taller. And he has the vision to play the occasional, insightful long ball. For the first time in a decade, there’s a credible challenge to Puyol in the Blaugrana lineup.
  • Thierry Henry. Deep-lying center forward with a magic touch? Left-sided, right-footed playmaker who can cut in? That’s Messi and Andres Iniesta, but it could also be Henry’s two chief accomplices during his devastating prime at Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires. And Henry suddenly looked like his old self in those environs. And his old self could be reason enough to keep the new 4-4-2 lineup together, especially considering Messi also looked liberated by switching position.
  • Didn’t see the first half, so apologies if I’ve missed any important incidents, and especially for the Barcelona bias of this write-up.
  • Miguel for captain. I’ve liked the former Benfica man ever since Euro 2004, so it’s good to see Unai Emery appreciating him.

I didn’t manage to watch the entire game between Barcelona and Valencia today, only a second half the blaugrana completely dominated. I don’t feel equipped, then, to make any authoritative statement on the contest, so let’s confine ourselves to a few thoughts:

  • Lionel Messi’s hat trick was amazing, but keep in mind he was up against a patchwork Valencia defense from the first.  Angel Dealbert is the fourth-choice center-back and Hedwiges Maduro emerged as a deep-lying playmaker, not a defender, unless I miss my guess. David Navarro, Carlos Marchena and Alexis Ruano were all missing. And Valencia was also set up to deal with Barcelona’s 4-3-3, not the exciting new 4-2-3-1 that gave Messi the space to operate in the second half.
  • Nevertheless, what a hat trick. While he is probably at his most dangerous running with the ball, it’s important to remember that what makes Messi the best in the world is the number of ways he can hurt a team: that he is also devastating running onto balls over the top, that he is perfectly capable of slipping the ball through the eye of a needle to find a free player in a more dangerous position, that he has the center of gravity and the power in his legs to win 50-50 challenges, and that he is crafty enough to know when to take a hit.
  • But it was just that most devastating of weapons that destroyed Valencia today. Pure and simple, that ability to switch the ball quickly from foot to foot is impossible to defend and it created all of Barcelona’s goals today.
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Comments»

1. stephendriscoll2 - March 22, 2010

Great description! ‘What he does have is the ability to turn on the ball and carry it into a sea of perfectly positioned tacklers, only to emerge on the other side, the pure, improbable ability to seemingly keep the ball. It’s those incredibly subtle touches on the ball, the ones that put it into places so minutely unprecedented that flailing defensive feet could never have anticipated it.’


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