Football Features

Lionel Messi by numbers: More than a decade of dominance in La Liga and beyond

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 9:35, 15 October 2020

Lionel Messi is closing in on a mammoth 750 appearances for Barcelona in what could be his final season for them.

The Argentine’s contract expires at the end of 2020/21 and given his very public fallout with the club board this past summer, the potential for him to not renew in Catalunya is very real.

Messi would leave behind a legacy of feats, practically all of them achieved by him during his time at the Camp Nou. If there’s a record to be set, you can be sure Messi has set it.

Messi’s dominance is especially apparent in La Liga. League play is the benchmark of consistency and quality that all great squads aspire to. It is the hardest trophy to win and most managers consider it the best. It perhaps lacks the razzle dazzle of a knockout cup, but it illustrates true consistency and quality better. And if two words summed up Lionel Messi’s footballing career, it would be consistency and quality.

The Argentine has been great ever since his debut. But starting with 2006/07, the first season he played more than 20 league games, his performance and output in La Liga is absolutely, utterly, incomprehensibly ridiculous. He dominates every major metric that Opta keep track of. Don’t believe us? Well check this out:

La Liga since 2006/07:

Appearances

Lionel Messi: 464
Raul Garcia: 454
Aritz Aduriz: 425

Messi’s ability to always be fit for selection is an underrated part of his skill-set. It is what makes all the records you’re about to read possible. By managing his physical exertion in games (i.e. those times when he walks around) he manages to stay fit and avoid serious injuries, meaning more minutes for much magic.

Dribbling

Take-ons completed

Lionel Messi: 2,039
Joaquin: 749
Andres Iniesta: 739

Messi’s dribbling is quite simply without equal. Usually great dribblers have a few years where they’re able to dance past anyone, but Messi has been doing it for nigh-on 15 years now. Bewitching and bewildering defenders for an entire generation. Levels.

Playmaking

Chances created

Lionel Messi: 1,019
Xavi: 662
Joaquin: 639

Messi’s passing is definitely his most underrated skill, as he is genuinely one of the best playmakers in the world and has been for a decade. He is constantly putting team-mates into positions to score.

Assists

Lionel Messi: 181
Dani Alves: 89
Cristiano Ronaldo: 87

Messi’s 181 assists is a huge number that owes itself the quality of his team-mates (Luis Suárez, Samuel Eto’o, Neymar, etc.) but the massive gulf between chances created and assists shows that he could have created more goals for Barcelona if said team-mates were sharper.

Goalscoring

Shots on target

Lionel Messi: 1,039
Cristiano Ronaldo: 831
Karim Benzema: 449

“You’ve got to make the goalkeeper work,” is what the old heads always say about shooting, and Messi does just that more often than anyone.

Goals

Lionel Messi: 438
Cristiano Ronaldo: 311
Karim Benzema: 170

Goals are the most basic currency in football, and it is a currency in which Messi deals regularly. The Argentine’s ability to outscore even a dedicated goal-getter like Cristiano Ronaldo while maintaining the rest of his game to a ridiculous level is why he’s the greatest of all time.

Direct Free-kick goals

Lionel Messi: 36
Cristiano Ronaldo: 20
Dani Parejo: 11
Benat: 11

Messi’s expertise from set-pieces emerged in 2012 and has been a significant feature of his time in Barcelona since. When Messi stands over a free-kick, you can feel the anticipation build to fever pitch… and then he shoots!

Goals from outside the box

Lionel Messi: 79
Cristiano Ronaldo: 42
Santi Cazorla: 22

But Messi’s ability from range is not restricted to set-pieces, from chips against Tenerife to thunderbolts vs. Osasuna to bending beauties at the Bernabeu, Messi is lethal from all distances.

As if Messi’s magical metrics in La Liga weren’t impressive enough, his production is actually that dominant across all of Europe’s top five leagues. You may wonder how those absurd numbers from above stack up against all of Europe’s finest since 2006/07? Can Messi’s dominance extend out across all of the top five leagues and over other legends who dominate their own divisions? Let’s have a look.

Europe’s top five leagues since 2006/07:

Appearances

Hugo Lloris: 477
Samir Handanovic: 474
Blaise Matuidi: 467

This is a bright start for the anti-brigade as Messi doesn’t feature among the top three appearance-makers across Europe’s top five leagues. He’s only three appearances away from levelling Blaise Matuidi, however, and given the Frenchman is currently playing in the MLS we are not far from seeing Messi break the top three.

Dribbling

Take-ons completed

Lionel Messi: 2,039
Eden Hazard: 1,244
Franck Ribery: 974

Messi remains Dribble God even when up against someone like Eden Hazard, who has spent most of the time facing less technically excellent defenders in England, or Franck Ribery dicing up defenders in the counter-happy Bundesliga. He simply cannot be touched.

Playmaking

Chances created

Dimitri Payet: 1,162
Mesut Ozil: 1,107
Lionel Messi: 1,019

Messi quite predictably drops a bit down the list for pure chances created, as dedicated playmakers Payet and Ozil (who also take every passing set-piece, which Messi doesn’t) edge their way above him. That he is still contending with guys, whose only job is to set team-mates up, again shows the breadth of his brilliance.

Assists

Lionel Messi: 181
Cesc Fabregas: 136
Mesut Ozil: 132

Messi cannot be touched for assists, though. As good as Cesc Fabregas and Ozil are (and remember some of those Fabregas assists were for Messi) they cannot compare to the Argentine’s ability to create goals.

Goalscoring

Shots on target

Cristiano Ronaldo: 1,187
Lionel Messi:
1,039
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 676

With his spells at Old Trafford and Juventus Stadium taken into account, Cristiano Ronaldo manages to surpass Messi for hitting the target with his shots.

Goals

Lionel Messi: 438
Cristiano Ronaldo: 432
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 257

Cristiano Ronaldo is older than Messi and since 2008 has dedicated himself wholesale to goalscoring, yet Messi has outdone him in this area. Not by much, admittedly, but again: Messi is a player who spreads his influence across every facet of his team’s attack, and dominates all of those facets.

Direct Free-kick goals

Lionel Messi: 36
Cristiano Ronaldo: 30
Miralem Pjanic: 16
Juan Arango: 16
Andrea Pirlo: 16

Messi’s free-kick dominance extends even over Cristiano’s Manchester United period when the Portuguese was lethal from dead-ball situations. Other specialists like new team-mate Pjanic and the hipster legend Pirlo aren’t even close, seeing their totals doubled by Messi.

Goals from outside the box

Lionel Messi: 79
Cristiano Ronaldo: 58
Zlatan Ibrahimovic: 37

Messi is football’s deadliest sniper, rifling in more goals from distance than anyone else, even Cristiano Ronaldo and the mighty Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Messi can dribble to shoot from close, he can shoot straight-up from range, he can thread the eye of the needle with a pass and he can do all this while playing almost every game possible. That he only dropped out of one of the above top threes when his metrics were placed against the very best Europe can offer says it all.

The best player in the world, bar none.

✕︎

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