Lionel Messi is known as the best passer / dribbler/ goalscorer in the world, but everyone will admit that he tries to save his energy in defense. While that’s true, some take it too far and say he has no defensive contribution. That’s actually quite wrong.
Messi actually wins a respectable amount of balls back, and he’s become a specialist at one kind of ball recovery in particular - winning the ball back in the offensive third.
In fact, according to WhoScored, Messi has recovered more balls in the opposing third than any other player in La Liga, having won possession back six times in this manner.
Of course, such a play is not just a defensive action, but also instantaneously an offensive action.
Relatedly, while he hasn’t done it as much for Barcelona so far this season, he actually can be a pretty good tackler. Stats show that, in the FIFA World Cup, Messi won 1.3 tackles per game. For comparison’s sake, the forward with the most tackles per game was Mario Mandžukić, who had 2. Eden Hazard had 0.7, Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane had 0.2 each, and Cristiano Ronaldo 0.
"Messi only walks and never defends for Argentina"— Luis Mazariegos (@luism8989) August 23, 2018
Tackles per game in the World Cup:
Di Maria 0.7
Diego Costa 0.6
Last season, he averaged 0.55 tackles per 90 minutes for Barcelona in La Liga, according to Squawka.