Just when you think Lionel Messi is a complete player, he keeps on getting better.
Yes, he’s one of the best players – arguably the greatest – to grace a football pitch.
But even he has to practise – and in doing so he has fine-tuned another skill in his already impressive repertoire… the art of the free-kick. In total, he has scored eight direct free-kicks this season.
His landmark 600th Barcelona goal came that way. From 30 yards out. Against Liverpool. In a Champions League semi-final. At the Nou Camp. Fourteen years to the day after he scored his debut goal for the Catalan giants.
So why is he so brilliant at free-kicks all of a sudden?
“Messi just changes everything,” said BBC Sport’s Spanish football expert Guillem Balague.
“He wasn’t an expert and started training with them, and you knew you were going to see something happen here. That’s what happened, there is a lot of work behind it.
“He has become a master of it and he is maybe the best ever these days.”
Top of the tree in Europe
Messi’s haul of eight goals from direct free-kicks this season is double that of his nearest rival in Europe’s elite domestic leagues – Paris St-Germain winger Angel di Maria.
This season is the first time Messi has scored more than one direct free-kick in the Champions League – netting against PSV Eindhoven back in September and now Liverpool. Incidentally, Cristiano Ronaldo has not scored a single free-kick from 24 attempts this season.
|Direct free-kicks scored across Europe’s top leagues (in all competitions)|
|Angel di Maria||Paris St-Germain||4|
|James Maddison||Leicester City||3|
|Cristian Tello||Real Betis||3|
|Jonathan Schmid||FC Augsburg||3|
|Antoine Griezmann||Atletico Madrid||3|
Messi, who has scored a record 65 goals in 129 appearances for Argentina, has improved his tally of goals from free-kicks almost year on year.
He has netted 35 direct free-kicks for Barca since 2012 and his shot-to-goal ratio has also improved significantly in that time.
In the 2012-13 season, Messi netted four free-kicks from 47 attempts (8.51%), but his current run of eight goals from 56 attempts represents a 14.29% success rate.
Messi scored his first Champions League free-kick at Dynamo Kiev in December 2009, a year after netting his first in any competition for Barca.
Wonder how many he’ll score next season?