In 2019, former Barcelona cocah Ernesto Valverde explained why Lionel Messi walks around in the opening minutes of every football match.
Messi can often be found wandering around at various points in matches. But specifically in the first few minutes, he’s simply carrying out reconnaissance on the opposition team.
The Argentine sets out to understand where each defender is positioned.
“Then, as the game advances, he gets in little by little,” Valverde told the Financial Times. “But he knows perfectly where the rivals’ weaknesses are.”
That time spent studying the opposition defence gives Messi the knowledge he needs to do what he does best.
But what if there was more to it than just that?
As we mentioned, it’s not just the opening minutes where Messi is seen walking around.
The 33-year-old often takes it slow as the play builds up around him. Then, when he senses an opportunity, he springs into action.
It’s resulted in many goals and a Twitter thread has been created that attempts to further explain the idea behind Messi’s walking.
Twitter user Pausa Futbol has analysed how Barcelona use Messi’s tactic to hold territory deep in the opponent’s half.
Pausa Futbol cites research from matches played in January 2017 that showed Messi created space by maintaining positions in high value 66% of the time.
By comparison, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta acquired space passively 50% of the time.
And a team as talented as Barcelona know how to make use of the space Messi creates.
So he’s not being lazy, which is often the suggestion many critics throw Messi’s way. There’s actual purpose behind his walking.
Back in 2019, ahead of a meeting between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Kieran Trippier explained how Messi’s habits can be frustrating for a full-back.
Trippier was on the receiving end of a Messi masterclass when Barcelona beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-2 in 2018, and the right-back was left in awe by the six-time Ballon d’Or winner’s skills.
“Everyone knows how good he is, but I think he turned up a few extra notches that night,” Trippier told The Athletic.
When asked what it’s like as a defender to play against Messi, the England international added: “It’s weird in a way. He spends a lot of the game just walking and walking.
“You play against (Liverpool’s) Sadio Mane, for instance, and if you take your eye off him for a second, he’ll just dart in behind you.
“But with Messi, you look four times and he’s still there. It’s weird. A lot of the time he just walks and walks – and then, before you know it, it’s a goal.
“I’ve played against him a few times now and he’s so good at just picking up those little pockets of space. Before Barcelona have made three passes, he already knows where the ball’s going.
“It’s amazing how clever he is. Even when he’s walking like that, you’ve always got to be aware. He’s unbelievable, the best ever.”
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