Is Lionel Messi the best free-kick taker in the world right now?
In the space of eight days, Girona, Las Palmas and Atletico Madrid were all forced to stand ten yards away from the great man and watch him add to his preposterous goal tally with glorious strikes.
In footballing terms, taking a free-kick is a relatively closed skill.
However, Messi’s three most recent efforts were all distinctly different.
The first was pure deception as he passed the ball under the leaping Girona players in the wall in the same way he would feed a marauding Jordi Alba for a counterattack.
The second was a two-part trick.
Ten minutes into the game, Las Palmas keeper Leandro Chichizola stepped early to save a Messi free-kick curled over the wall.
Chichizola’s team-mates were quick to high-five and congratulate him for his athletic stop but Messi had noted the early movement and, as he stalked towards the corner flag, he would have told himself to strike his next free-kick at the opposite side.
And he did just that ten minutes later, powerfully striking his second free-kick of the game into the top corner Chichizola was supposed to be guarding.
Messi’s third and final free-kick of the week came in the crunch match between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp.
Before kick-off, Diego Simeone’s men would have been hopeful of reducing the gap between them and league leaders Barca to three points.
But Messi is not one for dramatic title races, he prefers to coast to victory.
With one of the best keepers in the world to beat in the form of Jan Oblak, the Argentine artist opted for a classical curling effort over the wall and into the top corner.
Three free-kicks, three methods, all brilliant.
Messi was born able to dribble past defenders but the free-kicks, like his passing, came later and he continues to improve them on a weekly basis.
Striking a ball from distance is a completely different skill from the attributes that made him a legend.
Many see Messi as a freak of nature with a god-given talent but his free-kicks are proof of practice.
A dedicated student of the game, Messi identified an area where he could improve and didn’t stop until he became the best in the world in that department.
It makes sense if you think about it.
Messi’s quick feet means he is fouled often, so why not become a free-kick specialist so you can punish the fouls you are forced to suffer?
For a while many thought kicking Messi up in the air was the only way to stop him.
But now that he’s seemingly averaging a goal per game from free-kicks, even use of the dark arts have been rendered ineffective.
Many players have made a living off their ability to strike a dead ball.
The fact Messi’s set pieces are something of an luxurious add-on is further proof, not that you need it, of his unmatched standing in the game.
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