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While sometimes overshadowed by his other spectacular skills, set-piece goals have long been a key part of Messi's game. At the end of 2019 he netted the 50th direct free-kick of his career and was averaging at least four successful strikes a season - a better average than many top clubs.
But he's on a bad run in 2020, having failed to score in his last 62 attempts - and that's because Barcelona's rivals have found a cunning system to stop him.
BenchWarmers describe it as "basically three walls" and we can totally see what they're getting at, even if it's essentially more three rows of players each with a different task.
La Liga teams have figured out how to stop Lionel Messi from scoring free-kicks and it's working.- BenchWarmers (@BeWarmers) December 6, 2020
It's basically 3 walls and he hasn't scored one in his last 62 attempts... pic.twitter.com/PQ0hgaGm62
An actual wall of three stand 10 yards from the free-kick, blocking a direct shot at goal. Behind that but in front of the goalkeeper, four players are spread out covering different shooting angles. Then there's two players on the line, either side of the keeper.
It's pretty intricate but it's clearly working. The free-kicks have dried up for Messi when a year ago, he was way ahead of everyone else in European football.
Naturally if a player is this deadly from dead balls, teams are going to spend a lot of thinking about how to stop him. And this plan is doing the rounds.
34 - Lionel Messi scored 34 direct free-kick goals this decade in league competition. This tally was 14 more than any other player within the top 5 European leagues in the 2010s. Specialist. #Opta2010s pic.twitter.com/ZdPINkS0aK
- OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 31, 2019
Of course, some of this is to do with Messi's struggles for form in 2020. After a turbulent summer where the 33-year-old expressed how disappointed he was with Barcelona's board and asked to leave before agreeing to stay, he's yet to find anything close to his usual brilliance in the 2020/21 season.
While still reliable from the penalty spot, goals from open play have been relatively few compared to the deluge we expect from the Argentine genius. And clearly there have been no free-kicks.
Barcelona are struggling under Ronald Koeman, with a 2-1 Liga defeat to minnows Cadiz on Saturday the latest blow in a challenging season.
The Catalan giants are seventh in the Liga table, 12 points behind leaders Atletico Madrid after only 10 games played.
Leo Messi is, of course, an alien - so we could be surprised if he curled a peach into the top corner from his next free-kick, no matter what system the defending team come up with. But Barca and Messi's issues clearly run a lot deeper than that.
All Imagery: PA Images/Twitter
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