Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi - is he as good as ever, or are his numbers falling?

The Argentine continues to light up a below-par Barcelona side - but how does he measure up against his own standards?

 
6:00pm on Wednesday 26th August 2020
By
Paul Macdonald

Lionel Messi turned 33 in June.

While Cristiano Ronaldo is a few years ahead of the Argentine on the football career life cycle, Messi's numbers are such outliers that we naturally expect him to begin to slow down at some point.

The Barcelona team that he is featuring in at the moment is far from vintage - could that be impacting Messi's statistical output?

Let's take a look at his offering from this season just ended compared to the previous two.

1. GOALS AND ASSISTS

Messi (La Liga)

Stat2017/182018/192019/20
Non-Pen Goals P900.961.060.63
Assists P900.290.430.63
Non-Pen Cont P901.321.501.25

Messi's 2019/20 season was stunted by an early-season knee injury which kept him out of action for over a month, and if you believe some of the reports emanating from Spain, he continued to carry that injury because Barca simply need him so much.

But Messi does seem to have put a greater priority on providing rather than scoring this season. His non-pen goals P90 are 0.63 - still a superb total, but well down on his unreal 1.06 in 2018/19. But look at those assists P90; 0.63 is nearly double what he was producing two seasons ago.

Credit to @gegenpressing91 for permission to use his graphic

The above graphic shows the broad range of his assists, too; it's not just set-pieces but a broader range where he is dropping between the lines to pick out passes. He is changing as a player, taking his time more and assessing his options.

And despite his non-pen goals P90 being down, his non-pen contributions P90 actually hold up rather well - 1.25 is a superhuman total, only bettered by himself in 18/19, when he guaranteed one-and-a-half goals and/or assists every time he stepped out in La Liga.

Messi (Champions League)

Stat2017/182018/192019/20
Non-Pen Goals P900.691.180.41
Assists P900.230.320.41
Non-Pen Cont P900.921.510.82

This trend is continued into the Champions League. Barca were far from convincing in the tournament but Messi's ability to provide high-quality chances for his team-mates is represented by his assists P90 total of 0.41, nearly double his output from 17/18.

2. SHOTS AND SHOOTING ACCURACY

Messi (La Liga)

Stat2017/182018/192019/20
Shots P905.95.75.0
On Target P902.92.62.2
Shot Accuracy49%51%45%
Conversion Rate17.3%21%15.7%

It's been reported that Messi has grown interested in advanced stats, in particular expected goals. And it would make sense when you consider his shooting positions and also the number of shots he hits.

For much of the season he seemed to be shooting less, but shooting smarter. Shots P90 fall, and his conversion rate increased. But as the season dragged on and Barcelona as a collective became a little more desperate, so did Messi's attempts to make things happen on his own. This led to more shots from bad positions, causing his conversion rate to drop to his lowest level in three seasons - at the midway point, it was much higher.

Messi (Champions League)

Stat2017/182018/192019/20
Shots P905.15.84.2
On Target P902.82.82.0
Shot Accuracy55%48%48%
Conversion Rate13.5%22.2%9.6%

This trend continues into the Champions League, with shots and shots on target P90 declining over time. His conversion rate this season is also very low given the reasons above, coupled with the smaller sample size.

3. EXPECTED GOALS

Messi (La Liga)

Stat2017/182018/192019/20
Expected Goals27.00 (-5)26 (-10)20.85 (-4.15)
Expected Goals P900.870.870.65
Expected Assists P900.450.510.52

Messi has regularly outstripped his expected goals numbers - his numbers in 18/19 are genuinely astonishing overall - and this season is no difference. His xG P90 is down a little on previous seasons (though is still extremely high overall) but those expected assists numbers are definitely holding up season-on-season.

His 0.52 xA P90 is, indeed, his highest total since the stat was first gathered in 2014/15.

4. PASSING AND CREATION

Messi (La Liga/Champions League)

Stat2017/182018/192019/20
Passes P9056.760.856.4
Comp Dribbles P9054.16
Big Chances Created P90344640
Touches In Box P908.56.66.9

Messi's creative statistics continue to showcase his ability to open up the game for his team-mates. His assists P90 are huge, as is his xA, and his Big Chances Created are, for all competitions, a ludicrous 40 - at the moment Messi is guaranteeing that he will create an opportunity that a team-mate would reasonably expect to score every time he steps out onto the pitch. His ability to open up teams isn't just maintaining a high level, it's actually getting better.

And the explosion of completed dribbles P90 from Messi in 19/20 really is something to behold. He is well up on the level of 18/19 and is miles ahead of any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

5. THE MEANING OF GOALS

Messi (La Liga/Champions League)

Stat2017/182018/192019/20
Decisive10138
First Scorer10127
Equaliser361
Man of the Match182222
FC Average Rating8.28.58.4

FootballCritic defines a 'decisive' goal as one that changes the match state into the state in which it ends. Think of an equaliser that earns a point, or a goal that puts his team ahead. In that respect we can somewhat ignore that his figure of seven for 19/20 isn't higher for this season because it isn't complete. From this point of view Messi's goals absolutely still matter.

As is his uncanny ability to obtain man of the match awards and retain a high average rating. From those metrics Messi is as good as he has ever been.

6. THE GOALS THEMSELVES

Among Messi's selection of goals includes four quite brilliant free-kicks and a selection of his trademark curling shots from the edge of the area. His action from in and around the box is so automatic now, shifting onto his left and curling with unerring accuracy. In these aspects, Messi is as good as ever.

And his range of assists just continue to defy logic, with passes to Arturo Vidal and Frenkie De Jong this season being particularly brilliant. Messi may well be preparing for a move further back on the pitch and produce passes of this quality on a consistent basis.

CONCLUSION

Messi isn't showing any signs of slowing down yet. In fact what he is producing in one of the poorest Barcelona teams he has played in simply reinforces the standard of his performances.

But it seems clear that Messi is evolving. He was always both a creator and a scorer, but he is becoming even more proficient at the former. As Messi gets older, we will likely see much more onus placed on Messi's assists, expected assists and big chances created.

READ MORE:

Does Messi want to leave Barcelona? No. Could he? Yes...

The terrible 2020 which led to Lionel Messi's Barcelona ultimatum

'Messi already has a new club - Inter'

Five reasons why you shouldn't sign Lionel Messi

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