Lionel Messi displayed seven instincts against Poland


Doha, Qatar — The conceit was simple, forward Argentinafinal group game against poland: What if you only watch one player for 90 minutes? And that player, one of the undisputed GOATs, might be playing his last World Cup. So, pen and pad in hand, I set out to do what I’ve never done before: Chronicle a man’s every moment on the pitch.

Spoiler alert: Argentina beat Poland 2-0, which wasn’t meant to be Lionel MessiLast appearance in World Cup. You will see him again, maybe once, maybe two, three or four times in Doha. And, yes, there’s a chance — never say never — that he could arrive in 2026, though he turns 36 this summer.

Despite watching Messi for the last two decades — probably more than 500 times on television and at least a hundred times in person — when you zero in on him and nothing else, you pick up on things you might not otherwise. do not see, as well as seeking confirmation of what you suspect. Here are some that I have picked up against Poland:

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1. Messi walks around most matches

It’s the nature of the game to move when you don’t have the ball, but Messi does it the most. This, we knew: Bobby Gardiner’s fundamental analysis of Messi’s run in the 2018 World Cup Awesome read. When you just look at him, though — something you can really only do in person — it’s absolutely remarkable how different he seems from everything else.

He doesn’t track runners, may stick a leg out if an opponent is nearby, but mostly he just trots. Sometimes he is looking in the general direction of the ball, sometimes not.

You might think it’s energy conservation – after all, the man is 35 years old – and walking means you can save energy for when you need to sprint. Except Messi, especially at the national team level, have been doing this for a long time.

2. Messi has two other speeds: the rarely used trot and the rarer-style sprint

The trot is what he uses when he needs to get from point A to point B in a hurry, usually to avoid being offside or to take a set piece. The sprinter opens up when the ball is in front of someone he knows can get it to him or when he needs to pull a defender out of position. It’s not something we see often, but when it does, it can be devastating.

I counted four times, maybe more. He raced towards the far post to win a header (and a generous penalty, which he then missed). as he flew wojciech szczesny avoided Julian AlvarezK’s shot, as if he knew that Alvarez would recover the ball and cross it. On other occasions, he whipped a ball over a defender on the flank and flew into space, confident that he would receive the return cross (sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t).

3. Most of Messi’s dribbling runs are generally similar

What I mean here is that most of the time, he receives the ball either at a standstill or at a trot and then either stops or spins in space before taking off again. He is deceptively quick with the ball at his feet, which seems counterintuitive, and he takes opponents on target all the time. He doesn’t seem to mind losing the ball, which happened a lot against Poland, probably because he’s giving it away in places where it won’t hurt Argentina (and probably because his teammates see the possibility adjust). Whether he lost it or whether he beat three or four opponents, the effect was the same: opposing defenders converged on him, whatever defensive shape was now distorted, meaning openings were created elsewhere. has gone.

4. Messi’s passing party trick is extremely difficult to defend

There’s a classic Messi pass from the central positions, much like a Garrincha dribble, opponents know is coming but just can’t stop. He receives the ball centrally, he makes a dribble and then rotates his body to intercept a left footed pass that sinks at pace over the defensive line and into the left wing position. marcos acuña He was the beneficiary of it on three separate occasions, but, perhaps, the most surprising version of the pass was the one that found Alvarez late in the game.

Once Messi gets the ball there, it’s a classic triple threat. He can dribble and draw a foul, he can take a touch and shoot or he can pull that pass off to the left. You can’t really pass guard because you have to be aware of other options, which are “least bad” as you might say.

5. Messi spends 90% of the game in those two areas

One is at the top of the opposing penalty area about a third of the way between the “D” and the center circle, the other is wide to the right, inside the opposing half.

When it is the former, the result is almost always a shot, the aforementioned pass or dribbling run resulting in a foul or shot (or, if defended well, a turnover). When it came to the latter, at least in this game, it was mostly one of two things: a simple sorting, as if to say, “No, don’t feel it, you have to go,” or the classic dribbling run, usually from right to left. Again, you know what’s coming.

6. Messi wreaks all kinds of havoc when he doesn’t get the ball

His mere presence is disruptive, because if you’re an opposing player, you know very well who he is and what he can do. When he is not at the top of the “D”, the centre-backs wonder where he has gone. And when he appears on the right, the opposing team has more weight to think about on the left.

7. All of Messi’s patterns above are obvious, but then he breaks them without warning

It’s like it fills you with a sense of security.

Take the header that led to the penalty being missed. You don’t expect to see Messi challenging a 6 foot 4 keeper like Szczecin in the air at the far post. Or Argentina’s opening goal: play started on the right, the cross came in from the right and Messi was completely ahead of the left touchline. or on two other occasions when he picked up the ball from his own central defenders in his own half.

And there are moments when he forgets his age — and tricks his body into forgetting it. very. Look at the counterattack where he received the ball in his own half and ran with it into the opposing half, half a dozen Polish players gathered around him like a white cloud and Messi bursting out to score. It was blocked, but still.

It’s clearly just a snapshot of just over 90 minutes of injury-time of what Messi has done at this stage of his career, but it’s typical (penalties aside) and it’s still very Something is there while often little is visible. And while it’s familiar, it’s the moments of unfamiliarity that he can still conjure that give it an extra layer of menace.

enjoy it while it lasts.

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