Study shows Lionel Messi is statistically nearly three times better than any other footballer

Granada CF v FC Barcelona  - La Liga

Lionel Messi’s case to be considered the greatest football player of all-time is exceptionally strong.

The Argentinian has scored 672 goals in his career and has 34 honours with Barcelona to his name.

Then you consider his individual accomplishments, and his resume becomes even more startling.

Five Ballon d’Ors. World Cup Golden Ball. Inclusion in the FIFA FIFPro World11 in every year since 2007.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s supporters will put their blinkers on but there can be no denying that Messi is, well, unbelievable.

It’s hard to quantify just how much better Messi is than everyone else but ESPN may have come closest with their stats-based analysis into the best shooters in football.

Using TruMedia data for all domestic campaigns dating back to the start of the 2014/15 season, their findings show the disparity between Messi and his peers.

FC Barcelona v Sevilla FC  - La Liga

Their study includes statistics including expected goals (xG) and expected goals on target (xGOT), which Opta describes as:

The Expected Goals on Target model is built on historical on-target shots and includes the original xG of the shot as well as the goalmouth location where the shot ended up. It gives more credit to shots that end up in the corners compared to shots that go straight down the middle of the goal. This model is for on-target shots, given that if you don't get your shot on target, there's a 0% chance that it will result in a goal.

xG and xGOT are compared to see which players have added the most value to their attempts. 

Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United - Premier League

We’ll start with free-kicks. Barcelona No.10’s has scored 21 free-kicks since 2014 - no one else has more than 11.

His xGOT is even higher, at 21.71.

Messi has added 10.35 goals worth of value to his free-kicks. An image of Messi’s set-pieces since 2014, provided by ESPN, shows his preciseness.

Goals are green and misses are red.


Moving to open play, Messi has scored 16 goals and added 6.04 worth of value on open play shots from outside the box, both of which see him rank first.

He’s also the best when all goals from open play are considered.

Only three players are in double digits when it comes to goals worth of value. They are Messi (19.34), Mohamed Salah (11.23) and Alexis Sanchez (10.02).

Messi (120) has score more goals from open play than anyone else and has produced 109.29 xGOT. No other player has broken 100.


So Messi is the best at free-kicks and goalscoring. And he’s superior to anyone else at playmaking, too.

The 32-year-old has completed more than 300 through-balls since 2014 - next best is 173.

He leads the way in assists and is second in dribbles.

Overall, Messi has 177 goals since 2014 which is 19 more than Ronaldo.

He’s added 32.6 goals worth of value on 900 attempts. The gap between him and second-best Dani Parejo is a staggering 12.53.

“So just how good is Messi? Nearly three times better than everyone else,” ESPN write.

And Ronaldo? He’s attempted 1,005 shots since 2014, more than anyone else, but his wayward finishing subtracts him 3.07 goals.

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