Lionel Messi

From taking free-kicks to playing one-twos - how Lionel Messi perfected every skill

Have you seen all the special moves? Yeah, Messi's done them. And better than anyone, too

 
3:30pm on Wednesday 24th June 2020
By
Paul Macdonald

Whenever football witnesses something it's never seen before, we generally name it directly after the player involved. Maradona's Hand of God, the Panenka, the Zidane volley, the Puskas drag-back.... the list goes on.

But what continues to amaze about Lionel Messi is not only has he achieved the skills of each of his contemporaries in professional matches, but he has invented a whole bunch of new ones for himself.

1. THE PANENKA

The tried-and-tested penalty technique, Messi has ticked this one off the list in recent years, having never attempted it for some time. If there's one real flaw in Messi's game it is, strangely, that he is far from the most reliable spot kick taker, but he seems more confident now than he used to be.

Villarreal have twice been victims of it alongside Eibar and Lyon, some with the straightforward dink, some with a alternative side-foot down the centre.

In fact, Messi decided to pioneer the Panenka free-kick last season against Espanyol, chipping over a defender and a goalkeeper from the edge of the area in a totally original display of technique - apart from when he did something similar earlier in his career.

Lionel Messi's range of Panenkas

⚽ Messi's Panenka free-kick:

2. THE AJAX PENALTY

Johan Cruyff is, of course, a Camp Nou deity, just like Messi, so it wouldn't be right if the infamous passing penalty created by Cruyff when at Ajax wasn't replicated by the Argentine.

The slip to the side to Luis Suarez, for a simple tap-in.

3. EMULATING MARADONA

The eternal comparisons with Diego Maradona mean that anything Diego has done, Messi must repeat. The World Cup continues to elude him - he's likely to get one more attempt at it in 2022 - but in the meantime he's ticking some other things off his list.

He got the handball goal in early. Against Espanyol in the 2006/07 season he quite clearly gets a full fist on a cross to deflect into the net, queuing dramatic gesticulations from the entire Espanyol team, as Messi walked away nonchalantly.

And, of course, his goal against Getafe in the same season, a mesmerising run from the halfway line, taking out every conceivable defender before rounding the keeper and tapping home. I'm sure Maradona scored one like this too...

4. REDEFINING FREE-KICK TAKING

It's only in the last few years that we've reached the common consensus that Messi is, in fact, also the greatest free-kick taker ever. He has moved past 50 professional free-kicks, including multiple matches where he has scored two free-kicks in single game.

He has perfected the under-the-wall effort, he has invented the Panenka free-kick, he has found the perfect angle and distance to find the top corner, and he has also mastered the quick free-kick as Thibaut Courtois found out to devastating effect. Not only has Messi taken the mantle of set-piece star, he can also produce a wide variety of kicks as well, more than any other player.

Watch Messi's quick free-kick v Atletico on YouTube

5. THE PUSKAS DRAG-BACK

Back when England assumed they were the best team in the world, it took an upstart Hungary team to rock up at Wembley in 1953 and smash six goals past the shell-shocked hosts.

Highlight of that demolition was Ferenc Puskas performing what was deemed a magic trick at the time, dragging the ball back to send all England captain Billy Wright out of commission before lashing into the net.

Yes, Messi's done this too, in the Champions League, no less. Against Celtic in 2008 he collected the ball inside the area, pulled it backwards and curled into the corner for the winning goal.

6. THE ZIDANE VOLLEY

Granted, Messi's wonder strike against Sevilla didn't loop out of the air like Zidane's in the Champions League final did, but the technique required to strike the ball was equally, if not more, difficult.

Messi is being closed down - Zidane wasn't, both utilise the same impeccable technique of hanging the leg in position waiting for the ball to drop onto it, though Messi hits his much harder. It's not a Champions League final, but it's still a work of genius.

Watch Messi's volley against Sevilla

7. THE OVERHEAD KICK ASSIST

If you watch any compilation of overhead kick assists on YouTube - and there is a surprising amount of these, considering its niche nature - most of them represent a player simply putting a ball into an area where a goal might be scored.

But Messi's assist - granted in a quasi-friendly, the Joan Gamper Trophy in pre-season against Sampdoria - Messi is very deliberate in knowing exactly where Luis Suarez is, and picks him out without even facing him. It's a glorious piece of instinctive thinking and Suarez has to do literally nothing other than let the ball bounce off his head and into the net.

8. THE QUADRUPLE ONE-TWO

Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala just last week scored a goal involving three one-two passes in the Coppa Italia, but it wasn't quite in sync and a little fortunate at points. But Dani Alves always had a different level of simpatico and understanding with Messi, and in one of his most underrated goals, he exchanged four one-twos with the Brazilian on way to a quite brilliant, masterful, synchronised goal.

Watch Messi's quadruple one-two with Alves against Real Sociedad

9. THE FILIPE FLICK

There's nothing more to be said about this other than yes, he absolutely means it, and two, no-one's ever beaten a player in this manner in the history of the game.

10. 'ALMOSTS'

And finally, no-one misses chances like Messi, either. He has one of the greatest collection of nearly goals, or ''almosts", that his already impeccable top 50 could look even better than it already does.

Here's his stunning run earlier this month versus Espanyol, which almost provided the type of assist that should require a name change for the statistic:

Or his skip past six Spanish World Cup winning midfielders only for Angel Di Maria to be flagged offside. Xavi and Xabi Alonso are trailing in his wake here.

In fact just watch the best video of ALMOSTS in any player's highlight reel.

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