It’s the 77th minute of FC Barcelona-UD Las Palmas, and Lionel Messi has scored a free kick in every match of 2017 up to this point. He’s fouled in a good shooting position and has a chance to continue that incredible streak. He has every right and every reason to want to take the shot. Instead, Ivan Rakitić shoots... into the wall - but that’s besides the point.
Rakitić was a late substitution again, with rumors in the press that he is unhappy with the lack of playing time. I suppose we’ll never know for sure unless he confirms it, but there’s every reason to think Messi ceded the shot to try to keep Rakitić’s spirits up.
This is not exactly without precedent. Messi has been ceding the right to take penalties for a while now to Neymar and Luis Suárez. And the latest was in the Copa del Rey against Athletic Club Bilbao. Neymar was on a long dry spell, and despite playing well, hadn’t found the back of the net in months.
Neymar earned the penalty, but Messi still had the seniority to take it. Instead, Neymar did.
Again, he hasn’t outright stated that he gave the penalty to Neymar because he was in a scoring drought, but it seems pretty obvious if you ask me.