Lionel Messi was once again the match-winner for Barcelona as they secured a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad at the Nou Camp on Saturday evening.
The Argentine converted a penalty in the 81st minute after VAR spotted a handball inside the area, lifting the hosts back to the top of La Liga.
But despite salvaging what could be the temporary joy of a two-point lead over Real Madrid, who travel to Real Betis on Sunday, Messi did appear to have a rare off day.
Throughout the 90 minutes, the Barcelona talisman fired six shots at goal and only two on target, the last of which was his successful effort from the spot. Among his misses were a side-foot from close range, as well as a curling strike from the edge the box that he regularly scores with ease.
But as has come to be expected from Messi, he produced enough to grab his 19th league goal of the season and drag his team over the line. That said, Sociedad deserve credit for restricting the 32-year-old to one of his quieter performances.
The sixth-placed visitors stopped him from completing three of the 12 dribbles he attempted, which isn’t bad going when you’re talking about trying to dispossess Messi of all players.
And although Sociedad couldn’t prevent Messi from eventually finding the net, they did demonstrate an ingenious method of thwarting him from a different situation.
Faced with defending a Messi free-kick from roughly 25 yards out, Imanol Alguacil’s men must’ve been aware that setting up a conventional wall often doesn’t suffice.
Instead, the Sociedad team arranged themselves like so: three formed a normal wall, four spread across the edge of the six-yard box, two stood either side of the goalkeeper on the goal line, and one marked the space near the penalty spot.
If you’re finding that difficult to envision, take a look at the images below…
Messi didn’t score from the free-kick - his drive was easily cleared by a defender.
You’ve got to hand it to Sociedad, their bold tactic does appear to be quite effective.
From a broadcast angle, it looks as if Messi had very little to aim for beyond the sea of bodies obscuring the goal.
At the same time, flooding the box appears to give defenders a decent chance of getting their head on the ball before it’s anywhere near the target.
Let’s see if other teams copy Sociedad’s method next time they come up against Messi standing over a free-kick.
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