Lionel Messi: La Liga Performance in 2012/13

Denis Doyle

This article will be an in-depth examination of Messi's performance in la Liga in 2012/13, but with several tweaks and twists. It would be far too simple to list his goals scored and shots totals, instead I am going to look at Messi's shots location, his scoring% and shooting accuracy %. I'm then going to add some information on game state and chance creation and we should then have some finely detailed, if somewhat complex, data on this very unique player.

Basic Numbers

Messi's basic numbers in la Liga per 90 minutes

Minutes PER 90 Goals Assists Shot Assists Shots SoT
Messi 2629
1.57 0.41 1.44 5.58 2.74

Some mighty fine numbers here: 1.57 goals per 90 is out of this fucking world. Shots on Target per 90 is truly elite also, as are shots per 90. These are incredible numbers but I want to tweak exclude some of the goals and shots which are padding some of those totals.


We have to strip some of the goals and shots out of Messi's totals. For example, dead ball shots (penalties and free-kicks) are a completely different class of shot to an open play shot. Converting a penalty shot is much easier than converting an open play shot from the same position on the field, the same can be said for free kick opportunities around the edge of the 18 yard box. If these dead ball shots are an 'easier' shot and thus converted at a higher rate it's is not entirely fair to include them in a detailed examination of Messi's numbers. The higher conversion rates of those easier shots will skew the numbers.

Free Kicks and Penalty Shots will be excluded from Messi's numbers. Just for fun they are listed below:

-3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 Total

1 4 1

5 5 2
2 14


1 4 1


The premise of game State is pretty simple: 0=game is currently tied. -1=1 goal down. (+)1= 1 goal ahead. On and on we go.....

21 shots 7 goals from dead ball situations is pretty darn good, but it's also clear to see how 4 goals from 4 shots on target from central positions would boost Messi's in box/Red Zone percentages. The high conversion rate for dead balls shots had to be separated from the open play shots.

Shots, Location And Game State

Messi's La Liga Shots (pens and free kicks removed).

-3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 Totals
Left 0 0 2 5 5 5 2 1 0 20
Center 0 0 6 30 14 12 5 4 0 71
Right 0 0 1 3 2 1 0 0 0 7
Outside 0 0 9 15 10 6 3 1 0 44

12.68 37.32 21.83 16.90 7.04 4.23

It's pretty clear that Messi seldom shoots from the left and right wide areas of the box.

% of Shots By Location
Left 14.08
Center 50.00
Right 4.93
Outside 30.99

31% of Messi's non-dead ball shots come from outside the area and this may be due to any defensive shell the opposition employs at the close Game States rather than Messi's poor shot discipline. A major part of Barcelona's unique attacking scheme focuses on creating quality chances in a central position and fairly close to goal. Barca manage to do this with some incredible close quarter passing, constant movement and a some very well rehearsed attacking tactics. Messi is the x factor, the superhuman that makes the worlds best attacking scheme of the last 5 years even more potent.

Messi's shot locations are a snapshot of Barca's attacking scheme.

The Game State numbers are pretty interesting too:

% of Total Shots
Losing 12.68
Tied 37.32
Winning 50.00
Close 71.83

From the information I have gathered for the Premier league ~50% of shots are taken at Tied Game State and ~80%of shots are taken at Close Game State.

A quick glance at Messi's numbers tell us that he takes less than 'average' at both tied and Close Game State. This is probably a function of Barcelona's dominance and the fact they spend very little time at Tied GS or Close GS. Still, 50% of Messi's offensive output comes when his team is already 1 goal or more ahead.

Shooting Accuracy

We know about Messi's shots by pitch location and by Game State, but what about his ability to turn those shots into shots on target?

Shooting Accuracy -1 0 1 2 3 4 % of Total
Left 50 40 80 40 50 100 55%
Center 66.67 63.33 57.14 41.67 40 50 56.34%
Right 100 66.67 50 100

Outside 66.67 13.33 40 33.33 66.67 100 38.64%
% Of GS Total 66.67% 47.17% 54.84% 41.67% 50% 66.67%

The left and right sides of the 18 yard box don't really require too much of our attention, the sample is just too small.

56% from central positions is a mighty good number (PL elite average is 38%) but Messi isn't in a class of his own. According to @colinttrainor's work on PL strikers, Messi is in or around Sturridge, Steven Fletcher and van Persie for shooting accuracy % centrally inside the box. *May need to ask Colin if penalties are stripped out.

38.6% from outside the box is another impressive number at first glance but again Messi has some company in Ba and Benteke. Messi trails long range wizard Bale, but not Ronaldo, in terms of accuracy outside the 18 yard box.

One strange quirk of Messi's shooting accuracy from outside the box: Tied GS shooting accuracy. Messi took15 shots from outside the area at tied (the most) despite spending little time at that Game State and recorded a13.33% shooting accuracy number. So what happened? Is Messi trying to force the issue at Tied and break the deadlock, is he too keen and thus displaying a rare weakness in his decision making? Maybe, maybe not.

Blocks are the answer.

Game State -1 0 1 2 3
Blocked Shots 2 7 4 2 1

Messi's shooting accuracy fell down at Tied GS due to the oppositions determination and skill to protect their game position, this leads to the high number of blocked shots and thus Messi's lower shooting accuracy.

Do we need to question the wisdom of Messi shooting from outside the box at Tied against a motivated defense or is shooting from distance against the aforementioned defense the only (poor) option that even the best player in the world tends to choose?

Conversion %

Here we see Messi's Conversion % (Goals/Total Shots) across the game states and locations:

-1 0 1 2 3 4
Left 0.00 20.00 60.00 20.00 0.00 0.00 25.00
Center 50.00 40.00 42.86 25.00 20.00 50.00 38.03
Right 100.00 0.00 50.00 0.00

Outside 0.00 0.00 40.00 16.67 0.00 0.00 11.36

22.22 24.53 45.16 20.83 10.00 33.33

A couple of points of interest: Note the dip that Messi's conversion % takes at Tied game State and how low Messi's Conversion % is for shots outside the box. Messi's conversion % for shots from central/red Zone is fairly consistent across the Close GS's and dips thereafter due to small samples.


One of the aspects of Messi's la Liga performance and his performances in general was how much of Messi's ability to get his shots off was a function of the incredible attacking scheme/accurate passing of his team-mates and how much was down to Messi's almost unique ability to create chances for himself with his quick feet and agility?

Here is the answer:


Overall totals are: Shots assisted by team-mate = 60.56%. Shots fashioned by Messi himself 39.44%

I am not entirely sure what to make of the Total breakdown of assisted and non-assisted. What is a standard split on a standard team? What is Barcelona's average? I suspect Messi's 39.44% number is very high indeed.

The Game State breakdown shows us some might interesting things: taking the large samples (-1, tied, +1 and +2) why does Messi have a higher percentage of his shots listed as self-created at Minus 1 and Tied? Again at Minus 1 and Tied opposition defenses are at their most stubborn, and deep lying, and thus may be harder for Barca's intricate passing to break down.

Is this the point where Messi's rare talent takes over to a larger extent and he decides to take on the oppositions defense almost on his own and create his own chances? It appears to be so and it must be remembered that even in a team as skilled as Barcelona Leo Messi stands out and can do things that his team-mates cannot. The above graph may well just contain noise, after all it is just one seasons worth of data, but my gut says that Messi may well be able to create chances for himself with his unique talent in places and times in a game where others cannot.


-3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5
Left 0 0 0 1 3 1 0 0 0 5
Center 0 0 3 12 6 3 1 2 0 27
Right 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 2
Outside 0 0 0 0 4 1 0 0 0 5

0 0 4 13 14 5 1 2 0

One stat that always stands out amongst the many with Messi is his scoring% (goals/SoT) which is routinely around ~50%. The chart above which list Messi's goals without penalties and free-kick's tells us why his scoring% is always so high. The Scoring% isn't so ridiculously good solely due to his shooting quality-although there is an element of that in his scoring%- instead, it's all about his shots location. Just look at the 27 goals that originate from the central/red zone area of the pitch. 69% of Messi's goals are scored from this fertile area of the pitch.

Although we talk about the players excellent shot and one-on-one ability I think we need to discover more about how Messi is able to get into the central/red zone area so frequently and thus score so many goals from this pitch area. Getting into the red zone, either through his own skill with the ball or his movement, is the real skill and this enables him to shoot from high quality areas, close to the net and thus have a greater chance of turning any shot into a goal.

Remember Messi gets 56% of his Total Shots on net from the central/red zone area, a good number but not out of this world. His skill resides in how frequently he manages to get shots off from this area despite heavy marking and deep lying defenses. it is a skill a player like Ronaldo does not possess and it's a skill which some of Barcelona's CL opponents managed to stifle this season.

I will freely admit I have no idea how Messi manages-assisted or not-to shoot so frequently from the central/red zone, but he shoots and shoots a lot from this zone:

Numbers Per 90 Minutes From Central/red Zone

Shots Goals
2.43 0.92

Staggering numbers and if you are an opposition manager you need to somehow, by hook, crook or magic, figure out a way to prevent those totals from happening against your team.

Shot Assists

If you do manage to stop Messi from shooting or scoring he can turn his feet to creating shots for his team-mates, although Messi is far from the best creator in this Barcelona team which may be a function of how high up the pitch he plays. Shot Assists/Key passes are not perfect but they are an alternative to assists.

Messi's Shots Assist numbers

-1 0 1 2 3 4 5
Home 0 8 5 2 3 3 0 21
Away 6 8 5 1 0 1 0 21

An even home/away split although the specific Game States in which Messi provided shots assists varied.

At home Messi and Barcelona were the big bad bully, hammering teams at will and this is evident in Messi's numbers at +3 and +4. Away from home when Barcelona at times found themselves a goal down Messi played creator at Minus 1 where he recorded 6 shots assists.

Messi isn't a creator of a huge volume of shot assists and his breakdown by GS tell us more about Barcelona's game position when home or away. Hammerings were dished out at home but less so away.

Final thoughts

Messi is a fabulous player, a generational talent who completely dominates the game with his unique skill set and vision. We didn't need any of these statistics to tell us this. Nevertheless these advanced numbers help us gain some further insight into why Messi succeeds and scores at the rate he does.

A quick recap:

Goals Messi scores a lot of them and scores ~70% of his open play goals from the center of the box. These center box goals are the driver behind his amazing conversion percentages.

Shots Messi scores so many center box goals because he shoots so often from the center of the box. I'm not sure how Messi is able to shoot, assisted or not, so often from the center of the box but this is the real skill.

Shot Selection Messi records 30% of his shots from outside the box and does so more at close Game States. Most of his outside the box shot selection is probably forced upon him by the opposition. I am mightily impressed that the 30% number is not higher.

Shooting Accuracy 56% inside the box and 38% outside the box are both very strong numbers. messi gets less than 50% of his shots on target at Tied GS when defenses are in their most extreme state of defensive shell.

Help From Team-mates Messi gets a fair bit of help in the form of shots assists from his team-mates but Messi creates an increased number of shots by himself when Barcelona are at a Tied or Minus game state.

Messi by the numbers is a wonderful player who has great patience and shot selection, good shot accuracy which is powered in large part by his fantastic ability to get himself into prime shooting positions close to goal. From those prime shooting positions he has scored 27 open play goals which no other player in the world can match this season. Messi can also can also fashion his own shooting chances when Barcelona are struggling in games.

Right across the board we see that this is a fantastic player whose sole weakness, or so the numbers tell me, is the habit of shooting at an increased rate (and having those shots blocked) from outside the box when Barcelona are at Close Game States.

* I only included about a quarter of the total information I gathered for this article. I could have included left foot, right foot, headed shots and far more info on shots on target, blocks and game states. I may well dump that information on line in the next day or so, for now I will leave you with this:

SoT Missed Blocked Total
Left 11 6 3 20
Center 40 23 8 71
Right 5 0 2 7
Outside 17 11 16 44

<em>This does not represent the views of Barca Blaugranes or SBNation</em>

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