Lionel Messi: Barcelona star has now gone 40 shots from open play without scoring

Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann

To suggest Barcelona and Lionel Messi haven’t had a normal year would be an understatement. 

The Spanish giants were absolutely torn apart by Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League and had to go through an ordeal that nearly saw their star man leave.

Messi handed in a transfer request and wanted to depart on a free transfer, something he would have been able to do if he told Barcelona by a certain time. 

However, he eventually stayed at Camp Nou and in the months that followed, former club president Josep Bartomeu resigned from his role.

With Ronald Koeman now manager, they are still struggling. Barca are 12th in La Liga with just two wins from seven matches, while Messi is far from his best.

There is no doubting the great Argentine’s qualities but under Koeman, he is struggling significantly.

Messi has still scored four goals in 2020/21 but compared to some of the dizzy heights he’s managed in his career to date, it’s a rather understated total.

Lionel Messi against Dynamo Kiev

However, if we told you that all of the 33-year-old’s goals this season were from the penalty spot, few would blame you of accusing him of stat-padding.

After all, that was the criticism thrown Bruno Fernandes’ way last term after his move to Manchester United from Sporting Lisbon.

Of course, the difference in quality between the two is large so it’s a rather unfair assessment to make but you get the point we’re trying to make. 

The fact of the matter is, that Messi is struggling to score and in terms of his threat from open play, it has rarely ever been this sparse. 

Lionel Messi against Juventus

Messi’s latest goal came against Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League last Wednesday but he has only scored once, during game week one, in the league.

In fact, the £90m-rated veteran is finding life so difficult that he has now gone a considerable 40 shots from open play without finding the back of the net. 

Messi shot placement

Part of the problem could be to do with where he’s shooting. Everyone knows Messi loves to cut inside but as his shot graph represents, he’s predominantly going across the goal or towards the centre with his attempts.

He’s shot towards the near post or the right of the goal on just one solitary occasion in La Liga which bodes rather well for goalkeepers and their positioning. 

Perhaps Messi needs to change things up ever so slightly? At the moment defences know, for the most part, where he’s going to aim his shots.

Lionel Messi shot map comparison

What’s remarkable about this graph is just how many shots Messi takes that are recognised as ‘hard opportunities’. 

He is no stranger to scoring from range or impossible angles and in 2020/21, he has taken just four efforts in the league that are easy in difficulty. You can see that Messi is really trying to force the issue here when something isn’t necessarily on. 

That potentially explains his lack of goals from open play, because when you assess his map from last term, you can see that a good portion of his goals came within an easier shooting range.

Although he tried shooting from distance on a regular basis, a brunt of those opportunities didn’t actually go in. 

What’s interesting, though, is the fact that little has changed in terms of expected goals.

Lionel Messi comparison

That potentially explains that there’s a little bit of bad luck at play. When Messi played Alaves last weekend a string of fine saves prevented him from scoring.

However, as his progressive runs show, he is lacking the explosive nature we are so often used to seeing from him. Is that because of Koeman’s tactics? Quite possibly.

A host of reasons could explain Messi’s poor form. The manager, his age or it could be the fact that his heart isn’t entirely in Barcelona anymore.

That being said, it would be a surprise if the forward’s goal drought from open play continued much longer. He is too good to go so long without scoring. 

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