Lionel Messi’s performance against Espanyol on Saturday has captured all the headlines, but it’s worth looking at his free-kick record in a bit more detail.
His two brilliant strikes against Espanyol mean he’s now scored more goals from direct free-kicks in the last four years than entire teams.
And not just any old teams either. We are talking European heavyweights, we’re talking Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Chelsea and more:
Goals scored from direct free kicks in last 4 years from the top 5 leagues:— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) December 8, 2018
19 - Lionel Messi
18 - Juventus
14 - Lyon, Real Madrid, Roma
13 - Bayern
12 - Sampdoria, Monaco, PSG
11 - Chelsea, Liverpool, Milan
All of which is utterly incredible. If you haven’t had chance to see his goals yet (in which case where the heck have you been?) then you can watch them below:
Espanyol boss Rubi was asked about how to stop Messi’s free-kicks after the game and pretty much admitted he had no idea what to do.
“You try little things, moving a little bit, jumping... But with someone like him, there’s not much more you can do,” he said. “Maybe don’t use a wall or come up with something new... I don’t know.”
Meanwhile, the man himself was typically humble when it came to talking about his free-kick technique after the match.
“Well, I try to follow a [freekick] ritual a bit, trying to do things the same way so that it goes well again,” he said. ”But sometimes I get a lot of freekicks and I don’t put them in. I was lucky enough to get two in a row.”
Yet it wasn’t always this way, in fact Messi has had to work hard to become the free-kick expert he has become.
Messi's set-piece mastery is a great lesson to all of us that you're never too good to stop learning and improving. He didn't score his first free-kick for Barça until nearly FIVE YEARS after his debut. But he committed himself to getting better and now look at him. pic.twitter.com/WMJNgmwgYZ— Andy West (@andywest01) December 9, 2018
At the moment every time he stands over the ball you expect the net to bulge. How many more will he manage before the end of the campaign?