Six magic Messi moments in 2019 celebrating his 6th Ballon d'Or
As the Barcelona captain wins the award recognising the world's best player for a record 6th time, we look back at some of the matches, goals, and assists that have defined his year
Lionel Messi has picked up his 6th Ballon d’Or, the France Football award recognising the world's best footballer in a calendar year, after another stellar year for the Barcelona captain in which he has scored 46 goals so far, with another five games to come to finish off 2019.
(Update Dec 21: Messi finished the calendar year with 50 goals in total, following his hat trick against Mallorca and his strike against Deportivo Alavés.)
This year, the Argentine won his personal 10th La Liga title and his club’s 26th, and he brought his team to the Champions League semi-final and Copa del Rey final.
To pick just six moments or highlights from a full calendar year for a player of Messi’s otherworldly ability seems like doing an injustice to possibly the greatest player to ever play the game. Nevertheless, here we’ve tried to highlight six games or specific moments from 2019 which highlight the genius of Lionel Messi.
Thrilling hat trick vs Sevilla
In February, Barcelona travelled to Sevilla looking to consolidate their position at the top of the table. Always a difficult place to travel, the home fans in the Sanchez Pizjuán stadium love to create an intimidating atmosphere, pushing their team on.
Messi got his side back on level terms with a thrilling volley from an Ivan Rakitic cross, yet the blaugrana found themselves trailing 2-1, deservedly, at the break. The captain stepped up in the second half.
First, amazing quick feet put himself in the position to pick out the top corner with his weaker foot, before a genius chipped strike rounded off his hat trick to put Barcelona in the lead for the first time in the match with just five minutes remaining. In added time, he even padded his assists figures to play Luis Suárez through for a lobbed finish.
Another magnificent triple - which hat trick was your favourite?
Earlier this year, Messi really enjoyed his trips to Andalucía. Barcelona took on Real Betis in mid-March, rampaging towards another La Liga title. Earlier in the campaign, Betis had gotten the better of the Catalans in Camp Nou, stunning the world in a 3-4 victory that Messi’s two goals could do nothing about.
In the return game, the captain was determined to get back at the green-and-whites with a phenomenal hat trick, once again comprised of three very different, varying goals, each magnificent.
One postage-stamp free kick, one brilliant combination play with teammate Luis Suárez, but his extraordinary third is the kind of goal that leaves onlookers speechless.
To put the goal in words almost feels absurd, as on paper it’s a goal that doesn’t make much sense, it must be seen to be believed - a first-time lofted chip at the edge of the box, with goalkeeper Pau López not even far off his line, kissing the underside of the crossbar before bouncing over the goal line.
Even Real Betis fans applauded his genius with fervor.
Free kick feats and Liverpool stunner
Leo Messi has scored 52 free kick goals in his career to date - 46 of those coming for Barcelona and the remaining six for the Argentina national side. His scoring statistics in recent years have skyrocketed. With only 19 goals scored from the dead ball scenarios in his first seven seasons in professional football, 33 have come in the most recent five seasons - including this2019/20 campaign that is not even half-way completed yet.
The use of “only” in the above sentence should be noted here, as the normalization of this truly inexplicable greatness does Messi a huge disservice. He makes these numbers, feats, and records sound, look, and feel like the standard, and that is a testament to how great the Barça magician is. We should remember how lucky we are to be able to enjoy such a supreme talent and recognise that it will be a long time before another player will be capable of similar numbers again soon.
Out of all the wonderful strikes he’s hit from dead balls this year and through his career, perhaps it could be argued that his best free kick ever might have come in the Champions League semi-final at home to Liverpool. Struck from an absurd distance, and from a central position to the goal, the trajectory of the strike that flew past Alisson Becker. On such a high stage, against such a quality opponent, Messi continues to pull magic out of the bag.
In 2019, the Argentine wizard has 8 free kicks to his name so far. He individually has scored more direct free kicks in the last five years than the whole teams of Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.
Perfectly identical free kicks vs Celta Vigo
Of all the records smashed and feats achieved, one thing that continues to elude perhaps the greatest player of all time is a hat trick of free kicks. The Barcelona captain came as close as he ever has against Celta Vigo in November of this year.
In a 4-1 home win in which the Catalans actually struggled to find attacking rhythm somewhat, Messi delivered the goods again with two perfect free kicks and one penalty, giving him a hat trick of dead ball strikes, but not exactly free kicks.
What’s truly remarkable about this performance is how identical his two free kick goals were. Very similar distance from goal, very similar angle, exact same result with the ball sneaking in on the inside of the post and the goalkeeper hopeless.
Why tamper with perfection?
First goal in Atleti’s stadium with the pressure is on
Last week (Nov 27 - Dec 1) could have been a disastrous one for Barcelona, coming up against Borussia Dortmund in a precarious Champions League group with the German giants and Inter Milan breathing heavily down their neck, followed up by a tough away trip to title-hopefuls Atletico Madrid in a stadium where Lionel Messi had never before hit the back of the net.
But on the biggest stage when the pressure is on is when stars shine the brightest. Across the two games, each won by the Catalan giants, the world’s best produced two goals and two assists, having a direct hand to play in all goals his team scored in both games.
The one moment to be highlighted from this perfect week for the Argentinian is the solitary goal scored in Barça’s 0-1 win away to the Madrid-based club. As soon as he picked the ball up in midfield, Atleti boss Diego Simeone began to feel the fear of the inevitable, even when 50 yards away from goal.
A dazzling run at a speed that few athletes in their physical peak could match, let alone at the age of 32 as Messi is. The telepathic understanding with Suárez, who knew exactly where his teammate was running and was going to run, and therefore where to cushion his rebounded pass to change the angle by just the perfect amount in order to bypass Jan Oblak - arguably the best goalkeeper in the world - for a wonderful goal into the corner.
What I love most about this goal isn’t the dazzling run to get away from defenders, and it’s not even the inch-perfect finish into the corner. It’s the understanding that comes with two footballing geniuses sharing a pitch for years, knowing exactly each other’s movements and intentions, and without a word said between the pair, changing the angle for Messi to shoot at, and all executed at such a high speed. They couldn’t have beaten Jan Oblak any other way.
Nutmegs and goals show vs Valladolid
The recent game against Real Valladolid could be considered a mini career highlights reel for Leo Messi, as a fantastic all-round performance showed almost everything the wizard is great at, as he helped his side to a 5-1 rout.
First, a perfectly weighted lobbed pass over onlooking defenders to Arturo Vidal put Barcelona back in front, the type of chipped assist we’ve seen many times in the past. A long-range free kick placed perfectly in the top corner meant Jordi Masip in the Valladolid goal could do nothing about Barcelona extending their lead.
In the second half, Ivan Rakitic quickly played the ball to Messi’s midriff, and the nimble Argentine somehow manages to control the ball and turn to face goal in one move. He allows one bounce, before hammering home a half volley. Another assist set Luis Suárez up this time, and played low on the ground, took four Valladolid players out of the game for a relatively straightforward one-touch goal.
A game that brought Messi two goals and two assists, where once again each goal defeated the opposition in a very different way, be it surgical precision in passing, looped balls over defenders, long-range free kicks, or athletic ability to wriggle into enough space to strike.
And above all else, two sublime nutmegs that were possibly the best things he did during the game. The Barcelona legend embarrassed Óscar Plano with a slick turn, playing the ball through the forward’s legs using the outside of his foot before continuing his run at nearly a 180 degree angle. The look on Plano's face as soon as he realised what happened said it all.
Shortly after, the Barça captain decided his best way past the pressing Sergi Guardiola was simply to make a mockery of him, playing a pass directly through his open legs. That day was truly the Lionel Messi show. One of many we've seen before, and for football’s sake, hopefully one of many more yet to come.